Monday, November 4, 2013

How long until my divorce will be final?

Once you have decided to separate from your spouse (see earlier post about speaking with an attorney prior to separation), your divorce proceedings will begin and you will likely be anxiously anticipating the resolution of those proceedings.   

The amount of time it takes to resolve your divorce depends on a lot of factors.  The biggest factor is each party's position about the divorce.  Does one spouse want the divorce and the other does not?  Do both spouses want custody of the children?  Do both spouses want certain properties?  The more issues that the parties disagree on, the longer it will take to resolve the divorce.

Here's a brief timeline (ESTIMATE) of divorce proceedings.  This is only an estimate and the actual timeline will vary in each and every case.  At any point in time, if the parties fully agree on issues, they can form an agreement and avoid court hearings. 

Upon separation, you can request a pendente lite hearing after which the judge can make temporary determinations and awards.  These can include who will have custody of the children pending the resolution of the divorce, who will pay the mortgage, if one spouse is to pay another spouse any money pending the resolution of the home, who will have exclusive possession of the marital home, etc.  This will likely take place within a few months of your separation.  While it is ideal to have this hearing as soon as possible, it depends largely on the court's schedule and the length of time needed for the hearing.

If you do not have minor children, after 6 months of separation and the execution of a property settlement agreement, the parties can submit the Final Decree of Divorce for entry.  Depending on the judge's docket, that decree could be entered within a week or it may take a couple of months before it is entered.  If there are issues with the evidence in the case or any of the pleadings, the Court will not sign the Final Decree of Divorce until those issues are resolved and the decree is ripe to be entered.

If you have minor children OR you do not have a property settlement agreement, you can submit the Final Decree of Divorce for entry upon the expiration of one year from the date of separation.

If you do not have a property settlement agreement and there is property to be distributed or other issues to be decided (support, custody, etc.), you will need to set a hearing for the Court to determine resolution of these issues.  These hearings can last a couple of hours or last multiple days.  Scheduling of this will depend in large part on the court's schedule.  However, you should expect at least 3 - 6 months from the time you are ready to set the hearing before the hearing will actually occur.  Once all issues have been decided by the court and upon the expiration of one year from the date of separation, you can submit the Final Decree of Divorce for entry. 

From the date of separation, your divorce may be final anywhere from 6 months to a couple of years later.  At the beginning of your separation, an attorney can give you a vague estimate about the length of time they expect your divorce to take.  However, as the case proceeds, that estimate may change significantly.  Regardless, when separating from your spouse you should be mentally and emotionally prepared for the divorce case to take a significant amount of time to resolve.