How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce?

Chelsy Meyer  | 

Patience is a virtue. That idiom is is as true in divorce as it is with anything else. Many couples are anxious to get a divorce finalized as to move on with the next phase of their lives. For those who have a tumultuous relationship with their spouse, the wait can seem to go on forever.

In truth, your divorce could take anywhere from a few months to years to finalize. When you’re trying to estimate the time it will take to get a divorce, it’s helpful to understand the difference between an uncontested divorce and a contested divorce, and how each affects your timeline. You might also look at the factors that determine the length of divorce proceedings as well as the timeline for each step in the divorce process.

How Long It Takes to Get Divorced

The length of a divorce and the cost of a divorce tend to go hand in hand. The longer it takes, the more expensive it will be. The difference between an uncontested divorce and a contested divorce will set a foundation of expectations for your timeline as well as your costs.

Uncontested Divorce

You can wrap up an uncontested divorce in as little as a few months. Of course, that’s only possible if you have your paperwork and terms in order — and no bureaucratic or circumstantial delays affect you or your spouse. Overburdened courts, lost paperwork, or incomplete forms can all become an obstacle that adds time to the process. An uncontested divorce will generally take less time because there is no trial. If both parties agree on their financials, asset division, and custody, a divorce can be considered uncontested. This means you’ll avoid the lengthy process of hearings, negotiations, and fees.

Contested Divorce

These are the types of divorces that can take years to settle, and it is really up to you, your spouse, and your respective attorneys to determine just how long this will get drawn out. A contested divorce is a divorce in which both parties cannot agree on at least one of the key issues in custody, asset division, alimony, etc. The more legal intervention, motions, and hearings, the longer the process will take. If a divorce goes to trial in order to sort out the disagreements, the divorce will take longer and be a lot more expensive. You will also become subject to court schedules on top of coordinating with attorneys and your spouse, making it easy for one variable to add delay after delay.

What Determines How Long a Divorce Will Take?

How long a specific divorce will take is pretty difficult to predict. Each situation is different and each state has its own laws and stipulations in place. When trying to estimate the length of your divorce proceedings, consider which aspects are applicable to your situation.

  • Location: How to get a divorce will first depend on your location. Not only does each state have its own timeline and requirements for divorce that will affect it’s duration, but some states have separation requirements. This period of time is intended to allow time for reconciling. For some states it’s 60 days, for others it’s a year. Some don’t have this requirement at all.
  • Court workload: Unfortunately, one thing that can hold up divorce proceedings is the workload of your county’s court. This isn’t something you can help, but if your county has a large population, it may take a while for your divorce request to go in front of a judge in order for them to grant you a divorce. This is necessary regardless of it being a contested or uncontested divorce.
  • Fault vs. no-fault: Filing for a no-fault or a fault divorce can affect the length of the proceedings. In a fault divorce, you can file based on adultery, abuse, etc. In a no-fault divorce, no one takes the blame for the divorce. A fault divorce tends to take longer than a no-fault divorce due to added hearings and legal need.
  • Documentation: Divorce requires a lot of documentation. Filing, serving papers, compiling financials, and proof of fault are all just a few aspects of the documentation needed in divorce proceedings. If papers aren’t filed correctly, or if you have more documentation requirements, it can affect how quickly your divorce proceedings go.
  • Assets/Property Disputes: Disputes lead to mediation, legal intervention, and possibly a trial. If you and your spouse have an asset or property dispute, that can really hold up the process while the two of you come to an agreement or go to trial.
  • Custody: Deciding on the custody of children can be a big reason why parents consider whether or not they should get divorced. It’s a difficult subject, and for that reason it has the potential to really hold up divorce proceedings if you and your spouse can’t agree on the terms of custody.

Divorce Timeline: How Long Each Part of a Divorce Takes

The timeline of a divorce can have slight variations based on your state and situation, but the main stages are similar for everyone. Each stage takes a certain amount of time — shorter if things go well, and longer if things are disputed or delayed.

Preparing to File for Divorce

Before you file for divorce, you’ll have to have a few things prepared. For one, your county might have residency requirements. If you have moved recently, you might have to spend some time waiting for your residency requirements to be fulfilled. This might last between 30 to 180 days depending on your location. In addition to that, you might have to look into separation requirements. Some locations require you and your spouse to live separately before divorce. This timeline can be between 60 days to one year.

The Process of Filing

The filing process varies by county, but after you fill out your petition and file it with the court you should get your case number and assigned judge within two weeks. As long as your filing is done correctly, you shouldn’t have any problems moving this process along. Though lawyers make a divorce a little more expensive, it can help to have them when you have to file legal paperwork correctly.

After Your Spouse is Served

Serving your spouse with divorce papers can take anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks depending on how you choose to serve them with papers. Using a person you both know can make the process go faster, but using the sheriff’s office or a process server could take a few weeks. If your spouse dodges the person serving papers, it could take even longer.

After Your Declaration of Disclosure is Served

After your spouse is served, they have about 30 days to respond with a contested or uncontested divorce agreement. If they don’t respond, a court appearance can be arranged which can be scheduled about a month out depending on the schedule of your county’s court. If they don’t attend that hearing, you may receive a default ruling in your favor though there may be a waiting period before you can be completely divorced.

Negotiations, Disputes, and Custody Battles

If you and your spouse need to meditate on any disputes, you can push your divorce timeline back for a number of months until your disputes are agreed upon. This period will last as long as it takes to come to an agreement. It entails mediation meetings, paperwork, following filing dates, and if your case ends up going to trial, your divorce will be pushed back even further. A trial date has to be set and lawyers need time to go over discovery materials. You’ll take time to prepare, have court dates to attend, and a judge will make the decisions on your unresolved issues for you. This is the worst-case scenario in terms of lengthy and expensive divorces. For those looking to get a divorce but don’t have the financial means, a trail would be impossible.

Submitting Final Forms or Financial Agreements

If you have an uncontested divorce, you’ll need to submit the final forms and financial agreements with the court. This will outline asset division, custody arrangements, alimony, etc. In a situation where both parties settle on an agreement, there may be a hearing, there might not be, and the judge signs off on your agreement. In a trial situation, the judge gives a divorce decree and a spouse may appeal or not. The timeline here is extremely varied. Some areas might have your decree or settlement signed within a few weeks, others may take months.

After You Receive Your Divorce Judgement

After you’ve received your judgement you’ll have to follow through on the agreement right away. Start setting up plans for asset division, alimony payments, child support, etc.

The length of time necessary for a divorce might not be as quick as you’d prefer, but it’s important to stay on track with proceedings and do what you can to make the process run smoothly. This might be easier said than done since a fast process requires both parties to have a common goal of resolution in mind, and that’s not always the case. With such sensitive emotions, custody concerns, and financials weighing in the balance, it can be hard for both parties to agree on many aspects of divorce. There are many factors that decide the length of a divorce and all you can do is stay within your deadlines and work towards a fast resolution.


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Chelsy is a writer from Montana who now lives in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She enjoys talk radio, cold coffee, and playing Frisbee with her dog, Titan. Follow Chelsy on Twitter @Chelsy5

This post was updated March 22, 2018. It was originally published March 26, 2018.