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.
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.