Beginning the Proceedings
Divorces begin with one spouse filing a complaint or petition for divorce, then officially serving it on the other spouse. Many states allow the receiving spouse to accept service so the petitioning spouse doesn't have to go through the time-consuming steps of service of process. If your spouse is willing to sign the acceptance form, it can hasten things along. He then has a period of time within which to file an answer to your petition with the court – usually about 30 days in most states. If he does so immediately instead of waiting, you can cut a month off the overall process.
All states recognize some form of no-fault divorce, but the no-fault grounds involve a lengthy separation in some states. If you have been separated for one to two years before you file for divorce, this generally fulfills the requirement. Other states allow you to file on no-fault grounds such as irreconcilable differences or irretrievably breakdown of the marriage without a separation time requirement. This is a simple matter of stating to the court in your petition that your marriage is over and there's no way to save it. Filing on no-fault grounds typically means your divorce will move along more quickly. If you file on fault grounds, you may have to prove them in court if your spouse contests them, and this can drag out your divorce. Accusing your spouse of fault grounds can also antagonize him and make negotiations for a settlement difficult.
After the beginning steps of filing and service, you and your spouse can reach a settlement agreement on all issues – including spousal support, property distribution, debt division, custody and child support – and submit it to the court. After a judge approves and signs off on your agreement, you can be divorced. Otherwise, you must litigate resolution of these issues. Litigation is a time-consuming series of steps that includes asking the court for temporary orders, discovery to determine the facts of your case, pretrial conferences and a trial so a judge can rule on your divorce. If you're having trouble coming to a settlement, you can try arbitration – a sort of informal trial where the arbitrator makes either binding or non-binding decisions so you can be divorced – or mediation. Mediation involves meeting with a neutral third party who helps you negotiate and makes suggestions for settlement. Although mediation and arbitration take time, they usually aren't as long or involved as a divorce trial.
Another snag to a speedy divorce – even if you promptly reach a settlement with your spouse – is that some states won't finalize your agreement until a statutory waiting period has expired. For example, in California, the waiting period is six months. If you file for divorce and reach an agreement the next day, you must still wait another 179 days for your divorce to become final. In Tennessee, it's only three months and even less if you don't have children. Other states have no waiting periods at all, so where you live and file can have a significant impact on your chances of rushing your divorce.