Once you begin the divorce process, your goal is to conclude it as quickly as possible. However, the length of your divorce isn’t entirely up to you, and for most people, it takes longer than they would like. To understand how long your divorce will take, it’s important to determine what pathway your divorce will follow and the steps on each path.
Types of Divorce to Consider
Deciding to get a divorce that isn’t the biggest decision you will make about ending your marriage. How you will get a divorce is an important consideration and in part controls how long the process will take.
Divorce settlement. Most divorces end up settling at some point, whether that happens through attorney negotiations, working with a mediator, or last-minute efforts on the courthouse steps.
If there is a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, that will likely solve some of the issues in the divorce. How long the process lasts depends on how quickly a settlement is reached. For a high net worth divorce, expect at least six months to reach a settlement and probably much longer, contingent on how easily you and your spouse can agree to compromises.
Arbitrated Divorce. If you choose to use a private judge to hear and resolve your case, you can avoid waiting for a spot on the calendar at court. However, you will still have a trial with all of the preparation and testimony that requires. A complex divorce with several high valued assets will likely take at least a year in this scenario.
Divorce Trial. A divorce trial for a high net worth divorce is likely to take eighteen months to two years to complete at a minimum simply because there are so many complexities that must be explored and prepared for, not to mention the amount of time necessary to actually litigate the divorce in front of the judge.
The Steps Involved in Divorce
You may be wondering how ending your marriage could take months or years. The divorce process is lengthy for two reasons. First of all, there are steps prescribed by law that must occur in a certain order, and it takes time for each to be prepared and executed.
Secondly, a divorce is a comprehensive wrapping up of your marriage’s financial matters. It is also often the creation of a new parenting arrangement. All of those matters are complex and require careful legal analysis and then detailed discussion and settlement attempts.
The basic steps involved in a litigated, tried divorce are as follows:
- Decision-making. Before anything can happen, you must decide you want a divorce and choose whom you want to represent you in the case. Deciding to divorce is not an easy decision. It can also take time to find the right attorney to represent you.
- Information-gathering. Once you’ve signed a retainer agreement for an attorney to work for you, that attorney must gather information from you about your circumstances and the facts of the case. Your attorney needs a lot of information from you to be able to guide you towards making the right decisions and to be able to create a strategic plan for the case.
- Initial filings and service. Whichever side is going to commence the divorce must file a petition with the court and obtain a case number. These documents must be personally served to the other party or accepted by their attorneys.
- Responses and Complaint. More court documents are required to specify what is being asked for and what the grounds for the divorce are. The respondent (the spouse who did not file for divorce) has the opportunity to file a response and file a cross-complaint if necessary.
- Temporary motions. The attorneys in the case will likely file motions with the court asking for a variety of temporary orders. These orders set up rules and requirements for the spouses to follow while the case is being heard, such as temporary custody, maintenance, child support, and occupancy of the home. Orders of protection can also be issued if there are concerns about safety and domestic violence.
- Negotiations. Negotiations will be ongoing throughout the entire divorce. The attorneys will discuss possible settlements for the case.
Discovery. Both attorneys will work to gather information for the case. They will request information from each other as well as from third parties (such as banks, employers, employees, business partners, children’s schools, children’s doctors, and more).
Discovery is a crucial part of the case and can be a lengthy process. Your attorney needs as much information as possible so that they can present the best possible argument for your position. The more assets and debts there are in your case, the longer this will take. In addition to simply requesting documents, discovery may also include depositions. A deposition is sworn testimony given in front of a court reporter. It’s often a dry run for a trial and provides attorneys with details about the other side’s position.
- Further filings. There are additional documents that need to be completed and filed with the court, including a Statement of Net Worth, also called a Financial Affidavit.
- Trial preparation. It will take your attorney months to prepare for trial. Your trial date is dependent on the court’s calendar and may be scheduled in pieces over the course of weeks or months.
- Pre-trial conferences. The court will require meetings with court personnel to attempt to reach a settlement and to plan for the trial. There may also be hearings to resolve motions and to seek modification of temporary orders.
- Trial. The trial itself will likely be spread out over days and weeks and is not always scheduled as one on-going chunk of time, depending on the judge’s schedule. The trial is held before a judge, not a jury. Each attorney has the opportunity to give an opening statement then witnesses are called. Each side has the opportunity to question each witness. Suppose there are children of the marriage and a Law Guardian has been appointed. In that case, they will appear for the custody portion of the trial and also have the opportunity to call witnesses and ask questions. Each side will have the opportunity for a closing statement.
- Judgment. The judge will not issue a decision immediately. It could take weeks for a judgment to be issued and then several days to a week for the paperwork to be completed and the case wrapped up. Note though that it can take months (or years if sales of a business or real estate are involved) after this for all the transfers of assets required to complete the property division.
- Appeal. Each side has the opportunity to appeal any of the judge’s rulings. There is a specific period of time in which an appeal must be filed. If an appeal is sought, then there is separate preparation for that. A brief, or legal document, is filed with the appellate court, and then the attorneys appear to make an argument before the court.
There are many steps involved in divorce, and it takes time for each one to occur. Talk with your attorney for an estimate about how long your case should take.