Many factors can affect how long your divorce takes, including where you live, whether your spouse and you see eye to eye and whether you lawyer up. But not all divorces need to take years to finalize. Here’s how long you can expect your divorce to take and ways to help the process along.
How long does a divorce take?
On average, an uncontested divorce will take eight months to finalize, according to a 2019 Martindale-Nolo survey. If you have a contested divorce with one dispute, the average time shoots up to 12 months. And the process takes even longer the more issues you have.
How long does a DIY online divorce take?
For couples that take the do-it-yourself approach and use an online divorce service, your divorce generally only takes as long as your state’s mandated waiting period and processing time, which is anywhere from 30 to 120 days for most states.
But some states — like Nevada — don’t have a waiting period after filing. That means Nevada residents can get their divorce decree as soon as the judge enters it, making it one of the fastest states to get a divorce.
How long does mediation take?
Divorce mediation can take one day or several months, depending on the number of issues you have and how long it takes you and your spouse to agree. One mediation session generally lasts between one and two hours. And your mediation process may require several sessions spaced out over a few weeks or months.
How long does arbitration take?
The actual divorce arbitration hearing can take a few hours or a few days, depending on the complexity of your case. But you’ll also have additional meetings, including a preliminary hearing that happens before the big day and executive sessions with the arbitrator that may occur before or after the hearing.
How long does a negotiated settlement take?
A negotiated settlement can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to complete. With negotiated settlements, each spouse and their respective attorneys attempt to resolve issues outside the courts.
Unlike a collaborative divorce, these lawyers may not be trained negotiators. So how long it takes for you to get a negotiated settlement depends on how many offers and counteroffers are bounced around before settling.
How long does a child custody evaluation take?
A child custody evaluation can take one day to a few months, depending on the scope of the assessment. For example, a judge may call for a brief custody evaluation at the courthouse on the same day.
On the other hand, if a judge requests an in-depth evaluation, the evaluator will conduct psychological assessments, interview family members and consult with anyone who knows the family dynamics, such as teachers and therapists. The evaluator then issues a written report summarizing their findings and offering a professional recommendation. Altogether, the evaluation and report may take a few weeks to a few months.
How long does each step of a divorce typically take?
Each phase of a divorce takes time and varies by state law, though couples who are amicable and able to work together can often speed up the process. Here’s an idea of how long each step might take:
Meeting residency requirements. Some states require that you’re a resident for a specific period of time before you can file for divorce. For example, the California residency requirement is six months.
Separation period. Some states have a mandatory separation period before you can file for an uncontested divorce. For instance, in New York, you and your spouse must be separated for at least a year.
Completing paperwork. You’ll need to fill out all the required legal forms with your county clerk. The paperwork could take as little as 30 minutes for uncontested divorces if you use an online divorce service. You can also hire a lawyer to draft your documents, though this will often take longer and be more expensive.
Filing process. Take the day to submit your legal documents to the courthouse and officially file for divorce.
Serving your spouse with divorce papers. Follow your state guidelines to deliver the divorce papers to your spouse legally. Your spouse (aka the respondent) typically has three weeks to answer your divorce petition.
Mandatory waiting period (aka cooling-off period). Some states have a waiting period between when you file for divorce and the issuing of your divorce decree. In Texas, you’ll have a 60-day cooling-off period.
Judge finalizing the paperwork. A judge will sign your divorce decree and close your case.
Can we still live together during the divorce process?
Maybe. Some states allow you to cohabitate, while other state laws may require that you and your spouse live apart under separate roofs or set rules on how you live together during the divorce process.
For example, Delaware requires that you sleep in separate bedrooms, while Louisiana says you must live separately.
5 factors that can make a divorce take longer
Here are a few things that can drag out your divorce:
Contested vs. uncontested. Most of the divorce legwork lies in the negotiation process. If you and your spouse can’t settle on the big issues, you might be looking at a drawn-out trial.
DIY online divorce vs. hiring a lawyer. If you have an uncontested divorce, you may be able to use an online divorce service to prepare your legal forms in as little as 30 minutes. Using a family law attorney will likely take longer.
Child custody disputes. If a judge orders a child custody evaluation, your divorce will be on hold until the evaluator completes the written report.
Complexity of your case. If you have complicated shared assets that are difficult to separate, you might need to involve specialists, like real estate appraisers and tax experts.
Court schedule. Your divorce case is assigned to a judge. If your judge has a full docket, your divorce decree might be delayed.
3 ways to speed up your divorce
Here are a few tips to expedite your divorce process:
Use an online divorce service. This is an option for uncontested divorces to skip the lengthy court trial.
Mediation. Use a third-party mediator to help you and your spouse reach a settlement. If mediation is successful, you’ll walk out with a settlement agreement for an uncontested divorce, which can keep your case out of court.
File in another state. You’ll probably need to meet the new state’s residency requirements, but it might still be shorter compared to your current state’s waiting or separation period.
See how online divorce services stack up against one another.
While most divorces average eight months to a year, you can help the process along. Since uncontested divorces are usually faster and cheaper, you have an incentive to resolve as many disputes as possible on your own to avoid a drawn-out court trial.
After you’ve shown that you’ve tried to locate your spouse, such as checking telephone records or hiring a private investigator, you can request permission to serve your spouse by publication.
Once you get a judge’s permission, you’ll publish a divorce summons in a newspaper for a specific amount of time according to state law. If your spouse doesn’t respond within the state’s time limit, you can request a “default” judgment on your divorce.
In general, you’ll file in the state where you live.
Alimony disputes make the divorce process longer because divorcing couples must decide who pays, how much and how long.
On average, couples without alimony disagreements take 10 months to finalize their divorce, while couples who settle their alimony disputes take 14 months. But if you go to court to battle out alimony, you might be looking at a divorce process of closer to 19 months. This is according to a 2019 Martindale-Nolo survey.
Kimberly Ellis is a writer at Finder. She hails from New York City with a BA from Queens College and a New York State teaching certificate. After teaching in both public and private schools, Kimberly decided to take the world by storm and dive into the media industry — where she covers everything from home loans and investing to K–12 education and shopping. She’s also an aspiring polyglot, always in a book and forever on the hunt for the perfect classic red lipstick.
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