The first thing I’m going to tell you about the time that divorce takes won’t surprise you at all, because it sounds just like a lawyer. It depends.
It depends on how much you and your spouse are able to cooperate to resolve the issues between you. That doesn’t mean you and your spouse need to agree on all the issues. The way to save time – and money, by the way – is to be willing to talk to each other, to be willing to listen to what your spouse is trying to accomplish, and to be willing to be receptive to several different options to accomplishing your own goals.
Uncontested divorce is almost always the quickest way to divorce. If you gather all the key information for your divorce before you visit with a lawyer, the lawyer can produce the necessary paperwork quickly, get your spouse in to sign with you after both of you have reviewed it, and your divorce can usually be effective shortly after that. “Shortly,” of course, will vary from state to state depending on your state’s waiting period.
If you mediate your divorce, the time varies depending on how complex your affairs are and how easily you and your spouse are able to reach agreement. My shortest mediations have taken 45 minutes, but that’s rare. My longest mediation took 15 hours, but that’s even more rare.
If you have sort of the “normal” complement of a house, children, bank accounts, and a retirement plan or two, and if you have the “normal” conflict between two people who are ending their marriage, you should probably plan on four to six hours of mediation. That’s not a guarantee, of course, because how you reach agreement, and even whether you reach agreement, are up to the two of you.
If you’re able to reach an agreement in mediation, and most couples are, you’ll need to have one of your lawyers prepare the formal documents for filing as an uncontested divorce. The time for that process will vary too, but it shouldn’t take more than a week or two. Then when you and your spouse sign the papers, the attorney will file them, and your divorce should be effective according to the timetable of an uncontested divorce.
Now what if you’re in adversarial divorce? If both you and your spouse have lawyers, and you’re in adversarial divorce with no prospects for mediation, the time your divorce will take becomes a lot less certain. It could finish quickly if you and your spouse, and your lawyer and your spouse’s lawyer are all able to reach agreement. It also could drag on for months, sometimes years, as you schedule court hearings and then delay them, and as your lawyers write letters back and forth.
There’s no question that adversarial divorce is the hardest to estimate from a time standpoint. In my county the average trial on the substantive issues of divorce takes a year or more after the initial complaint is filed. That’s not because you can’t schedule a date on the court’s docket. It’s because so many cases keep getting continued – postponed – with no resolution.
So let’s see if we can sum it up. Adversarial divorce almost always takes the longest, mediated divorce is much shorter than adversarial divorce, and uncontested divorce can be even quicker, depending on whether you and your spouse are able to reach agreement and keep the divorce uncontested.
And if you’re fed up with how long this is taking and ready to do whatever it takes to get it over with, read I’m so ready to get this over with.