Is it Normal for the Financial Part of a Divorce to Drag on for Years?

by Heather Frances Google

When a couple agrees on the terms of their divorce, they can divorce as quickly as a few weeks, depending on state law. But when spouses can’t agree and instead wish to fight about terms, such as finances and property division, the divorce can take considerably more time. There is no way to know with certainty how long it will take because it depends on the case itself as well as the court’s caseload.

Causes for Delay

Each case is different, but more complex cases tend to increase the time needed to finalize the divorce. Regardless of whether the divorce is finalized by settlement between the spouses or trial, if the spouses’ finances are complex, the case is likely to take longer. For example, if the spouses co-own a business or only one spouse owns a business, the couple’s finances may be more complex than if both spouses were employed by someone else. If the spouses own significant assets, such as multiple investment accounts or properties, it may take extra time to sort out a financial settlement.

Discovery

Like other lawsuits, divorce involves a period in which both sides have the right to obtain information from the other side, called “discovery.” Discovery may involve sorting through boxes of documents, taking recorded testimony from potential witnesses or other fact-gathering steps. Court rules about the timelines for discovery vary; however, the process can easily take several months. If spouses disagree about the discovery process, the court may have to get involved, making the process longer.

Experts

Divorce cases that involve complicated finances — or when one spouse does not have full access to the other spouse’s financial information — can benefit from the services of a forensic accountant or other expert. Forensic accountants analyze financial data to determine their accuracy; thus, they can help one spouse determine whether the information provided by the other spouse is accurate or whether that spouse may be hiding assets somewhere. Forensic accountants can also estimate a business’s value so it can be addressed in property division in the divorce. Like other aspects of the divorce process, the forensic analysis of the couple’s finances can take a long time if the finances are complicated.

Trial

If the spouses do not settle on the terms of their divorce, the case proceeds to trial. Some states have deadlines for the divorce trial to take place, but these deadlines vary by state. It can take several months for a case to reach trial once both sides are ready and preliminary matters have been resolved, and the speediness of the trial may depend heavily on the court’s schedule. The trial itself can be several days or weeks long, depending on the case’s complexity. A judge can even take months to issue a written decision after the trial is complete.

Bifurcation

Some states, such as Alaska and California, allow spouses to bifurcate the divorce process. This allows spouses to dissolve their marital bonds quickly then take their time going through the financial terms of the divorce, perhaps for tax or bankruptcy purposes or simply to move on from the marriage. Procedures vary from state to state, but spouses must typically ask for bifurcation since courts don’t automatically split cases.