How Long Does a Divorce Take?

How Long Does a Divorce Take?

by Ronna L. DeLoe, Esq., June 2016

Before you file for divorce, you'll probably want to know how long it takes to get one. The answer will depend on a number of factors. Changing any one of these factors can affect how long the divorce process takes.

How Long Does It Take to Get Divorced?

The time it takes for getting a divorce is affected by:

  • Where you live
    • If your state has a waiting or “cooling off" period
    • If your state has a required period of separation
    • If you've satisfied the residency requirements
  • Whether you're filing a fault-based or no-fault divorce
  • If you're able to find your spouse for service of divorce papers
  • If your divorce is an uncontested divorce—where all major issues are resolved
  • If your divorce is contested—where you and your spouse cannot resolve major issues, making a trial likely
  • Whether you have expensive assets and businesses that need to be evaluated for their net worth
  • Whether you have serious conflicts about custody, possibly requiring a forensic psychologist to evaluate the family
  • Whether you trust that there are no hidden assets
  • If your local family court has a backlog of cases

“Cooling Off" Periods and Periods of Separation

Whether or not you can have a relatively quick divorce can depend upon your state and whether it has a mandatory waiting or “cooling off" period. A cooling off period is the time you must wait before you can get divorced. A waiting period allows you to consider reconciling or to get adjusted to your new situation.

If you read articles about each state's waiting period, you will get different and often wrong answers. How long getting divorced takes will depend on what the waiting period is in your state.

Some states don't have waiting periods, while others do: California has a six-month period. Tennessee has a 90-day period when there are children and a 60-day period without children.

In some states, you can't even file for divorce unless you've been separated for a specific period of time—often one year. Check with a family lawyer to find out about your state's waiting period and if you need to be living separate and apart for a specific amount of time.

Residency Requirements

Residency requirements can increase the time it takes for your divorce to be finalized. You must meet your state's residency requirements before you can file for divorce. A family lawyer can inform you of these requirements.

Whether Your Divorce Is No-Fault or Fault-Based

You can file for a no-fault divorce in every state. A no-fault divorce is where no one takes the blame for breaking up the marriage. Some states also allow you to file a divorce based on fault. That means you can claim adultery, cruel and inhuman treatment, or other grounds for divorce.

If you're trying to slow down the divorce process, filing a fault-based divorce does that because you have to prove grounds for divorce at a hearing or trial. Your spouse could file a fault-based divorce in an attempt to stop the divorce. Most of the time, filing a fault-based divorce doesn't stop the divorce, but it will make the process take longer.

Serving Divorce Papers on Your Spouse

If your spouse avoids getting served with divorce papers, your divorce will take longer. Sometimes spouses play games when it comes to getting served with papers. If this happens, get a process server.

Uncontested Divorces Take Less Time

An uncontested divorce take less time because there is no trial. You and your spouse sign the required papers, including a marital settlement agreement. This allows your case to move quickly through the court. The judge merely needs to look at your papers, make sure they're in order, and then grant the divorce.

A divorce that is no-fault and uncontested will be the fastest way to get divorced because you're agreeing with your spouse about everything. Depending on your state, your divorce could take from one to several months.

A Contested Divorce Will Take Longer

If your divorce is contested, your divorce could take a lot longer. A contested divorce, where at least one major issue cannot be resolved, will often involve a trial on any unresolved issues.

If you add the time for a trial to the mandatory waiting period, your divorce proceedings could take more than a year.

Your County Court's Work Load

How long does a divorce take in your county? If your family or matrimonial court has a backlog of cases, your divorce will take longer. Your case has to get on the court calendar before a judge can grant your divorce.

If your county has a large population, it is likely the court has a long list of cases ahead of yours. A backlog adds additional time to your divorce.

The Complexity of the Issues

How long does it take to get a divorce if your situation is complicated? If your case involves a lot of property, has complex issues about assets or visitation, or contains difficult custody issues, then your divorce will take longer than other cases.

If you can get your spouse to agree on such issues, then your divorce can be done more quickly. Even difficult cases can be resolved by a marital settlement agreement and move swiftly through the court.

If Your Spouse Is Hiding Assets

Make sure you trust your spouse to have made a complete disclosure about assets. If you don't trust that all assets have been disclosed, consult a family lawyer. While it will slow down your divorce, you don't want to walk away from assets you may be entitled to.

So, How Can You Speed Up Your Divorce?

There are several ways to speed up a divorce. The best way is to reach agreement with your spouse on:

  • Division of property and debt
  • Custody and visitation
  • Child support
  • Spousal support
  • Health and life insurance
  • Any other issues that need to be resolved

Make sure you meet your state's residency requirements. Also make sure your divorce papers are correct and complete, so you don't have to redo them.

In the states that have mandatory waiting periods, you might be able to get a waiver if you and your spouse agree to it or if you show good cause for the waiver. Consult with a family lawyer to identify steps you can take to get your divorce done properly and quickly.

Filing for divorce online with LegalZoom is simple and affordable. Begin by completing an online questionnaire. We'll help you create your divorce forms and provide easy-to-follow instructions for filing all necessary forms with the court.