How Long Does it Take to Complete a Divorce?

by Beverly Bird

Trying to figure out how long it might take you to become divorced is like gauging how long it will take you to mow your lawn. If nothing goes wrong and you have your spouse's help, you can probably complete the chore in a jiffy. If your spouse sabotages the mower so it breaks down, you're looking at a much longer time. Divorce timelines depend a great deal on whether you and your spouse are in agreement or one of you contests the action. You could be divorced in a few months or it could take years.

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Marital Settlement Agreements

If you and your spouse are in agreement about the divorce and how you're going to resolve issues of property, support and custody, you can usually be divorced within a few months. Most states have procedures in place where you can create and sign a marital settlement agreement and submit it to the court with a joint petition for divorce. If the court approves your agreement, you can be divorced immediately, assuming your state doesn't have a mandatory waiting period.

Waiting Periods

Many states have mandatory waiting periods for divorce, but they're not usually longer than six months. In these states, you can file your marital settlement agreement immediately, but you'll have to wait out the time period before a judge will issue your decree. Many states will do so automatically as soon as the waiting period expires.

Contested Divorce Procedures

Contested divorces can drag out interminably because they're riddled with court-imposed deadlines by which spouses must complete certain requirements. First, after you file for divorce and serve your spouse with a copy of your petition, he has at least one month to file papers with the court in response. Then, if custody is at issue, most states will require you to attend parenting classes and mediation. These events have to be scheduled and this could take another month or more. The court must have documented proof of the value of all assets and the extent of marital debts. Appraisals of real estate can take months. If subpoenas are issued to banks and financial institutions, the subpoenaed party usually has up to one month to respond.

If You Have to Go to Trial

Typically, it can take a year or more for a contested divorce to go through all the required steps. Many spouses reach a settlement before the end of this process and can submit their agreement to the court and be divorced. If you don’t reach a settlement, you'll have to proceed to trial. You may have to wait in line with other couples for a trial date, depending on how busy the court is. Extremely complex divorces involving custody battles or considerable assets are not usually decided in a single day, and subsequent days are not always scheduled immediately after the other. You might appear in court on Monday one week then not go back to court until Friday of the next week. With simpler divorces, a judge might issue his decision immediately, when the trial concludes. If a lot of issues are at stake, the judge will usually take some time to review the evidence and testimony. He'll issue a written decision and decree at a later date, potentially adding several more months to the process.