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How long does it take for a divorce to be final?

January 2, 2017 Blog

Divorce is a major life decision and few people decide to end a marriage without careful deliberation. However, as soon as a married couple begins to consider divorce, the parties want to know how long the divorce process takes and when the divorce will be final.

Both the cost of divorce and how long it will take to finalize depend on a variety of factors, including the divorce attorneys engaged by the parties and the number of issues requiring resolution.

Divorce Timelines

The following factors may affect how quickly the uncontested divorce becomes final:
If both parties return required documents to each other quickly, it’s possible to finalize the uncontested divorce in a short time:

• It’s possible to finalize the divorce in as little as six weeks in many states.

• In Nevada, the uncontested divorce can be finalized in about a month.

• In Oklahoma, it’s possible to finalize an uncontested divorce in about two weeks. For divorcing couples with children, the process takes about three months.

According to the New York Times, contentious behavior can extend the divorce process to six months or longer. According to, the average divorce takes more than 10 months to become final.

State Laws and Divorce

The state laws in which the divorce is filed can also affect how quickly the divorce is final. Minimum residency requirements may affect the parties’ ability to file for divorce in the state of residence or the state may require the parties to wait for a specific time period before filing or finalizing a divorce. The state may also require divorcing parties to live apart for a specific time before finalizing a divorce.

Practically speaking, the time needed for an uncontested divorce to become final may also depend on the court’s timeline. If the court is busy and can’t hear the case, more time is needed to finalize the divorce.

Waiting Periods and Separation Requirements

If the divorcing couple’s state has a mandatory waiting or cooling off period, this time must pass before the divorce is filed and/or finalized. Not every state requires a waiting period. For instance, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Vermont, and Virginia don’t have a mandatory waiting period in place.

If the state in which the parties are divorcing has a mandatory waiting period, the clock begins when the divorce paperwork is filed or when one spouse serves another with divorce papers.

Some states also require a separation period. If relevant, the parties must live apart for a specific period before filing or finalizing a divorce.

The rationale behind waiting periods and separation requirements is to provide time for reflection. The average waiting period is 30 to 90 days in states that have one. However, even if the state doesn’t require this mandatory period, the judge’s schedule can affect how much time is needed to finalize the divorce.

Whether the state in which the parties live requires a divorce hearing, the court’s administrative speed determines how quickly the divorce case is finalized. Parties can help the court to proceed by filing required paperwork in a timely fashion.

Regardless of the state of residence, preparing and filing the correct documents in the proper order is a must to prevent unnecessary delays in finalizing the divorce. Retaining an experienced divorce lawyer at this step is essential.

Mandatory Waiting Periods and Minor Children

The mandatory waiting period may be longer if divorcing parties are parents to minor children. In most instances, states that increase the mandatory waiting period in this instance add one or two months to the divorce timeline. The state of Michigan is the exception. Divorcing parties’ waiting period is extended to six months (from two months) in this scenario.

Mandatory waiting period isn’t the same as the time provided for a non-filing spouse to answer divorce papers. The time allowed to respond to the filing spouse is usually between 20 to 60 days. In this period, the answering and non-filing spouse can either prepare an answer or engage a divorce attorney. Decision to engage counsel at this state is timely, especially if he or she doesn’t agree with the divorce petition or the terms put forth in them.

Although the state’s mandatory waiting period is usually a fixed period that can’t be waived, the responding, non-filing spouse can shorten the divorce timeline by preparing and filing the court-required documents. Divorce is a complex process and many divorcing couples benefit from the advice of an experienced divorce law firm.

Accelerating the Divorce Process

Most states require divorcing couples to meet residency requirements and wait out mandatory separation and/or wait periods. In some states, it’s possible to request a waiver of the mandatory waiting period. The court may grant a waiver when both parties concur or when the court believes doing so is in the best interest of the parties.
For instance, Iowa’s laws (with a 90-day mandatory wait period) provide the procedure for requesting a court waiver of the requirement.

Acceleration of the divorce process is unlikely in most states. Even with experienced legal counsel, court calendars and prior divorce cases requiring finalization can extend the time needed to finalize a divorce. In contrast, failure to orchestrate the divorce process in the residents’ state can extend the divorce timeline.

For many divorcing couples, divorce simply isn’t a do-it-yourself task. Knowing how long it will take for a divorce to be final depends on multiple factors. Common divorce issues such as child custody and support, spousal maintenance or alimony, property division, debt division, attorney fees, reimbursement claims, and breach of fiduciary duty claims take time and legal experience to resolve.



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