If you've reached the point of no return in your marriage — where ending it seems inevitable — well, first of all, sorry you're going through that. Letting go of any relationship, especially one you thought was for the long haul, is hard stuff. Closing the door even on an unhealthy marriage can feel sad and awful and overwhelming. But if you know it's time, you've undoubtedly already started considering the logistics. Because as much as splitting up sucks, splitting up without having a clue what your next move is can make it suck even more. So, one of the most pressing questions in your head right now is likely, "How long does a divorce take?"
Unfortunately, your perception of the speediness of said process has probably been skewed by movies and TV that make it look far more straightforward than it actually is. You watch people show up once for a very long day of fighting over custody and summer homes, and by the end of it, they're free to walk out the lawyers' door and into the arms of their new loves. However, the truth is that even an amicable divorce often takes much, much longer. So many factors come into play that it's nearly impossible to gauge how each one could affect an individual divorce timeline.
For instance, you have to be separated for a minimum amount of time before filing for divorce in some states. In other places, you can file for divorce immediately, and it's pretty much all said and done — but the courts don’t technically finalize it for several months. And then there are individual issues a divorcing couple might face. You might have only been married a year, but if you bought something significant together, you could be in for a big fight over it. You can probably already guess that things can get far more complicated if you have kids.
Fear not; you'll find your way to the other side of this. You just need to mentally (and emotionally) prepare yourself for the possibility of a lengthy process. Keep reading for more information about five big factors that affect divorce timing: where you live, whether you have kids, if you run a business together, what type of assets you share, and whether your divorce is uncontested.
State-By-State Divorce Rules
"The truth is, it depends, both on your marriage and on the state you're getting divorced in," says Chloe Wolman, Esq. "In California, you can file for divorce on Monday, jump through the necessary statutory hoops on Tuesday, mediate on Wednesday, write a settlement on Thursday and file it on Friday. In that case, the parties would technically be 'done' with their divorce case, but they would still remain legally married until six months after the divorce was originally filed. That's not really that meaningful for most people, because it just means that you can't get remarried and may have some tax consequences. But otherwise, the divorce process is pretty much done."
It's not that easy in other states, though. While California's "cooling-off period” is pretty long, it's not the longest wait time required by a state for processing a divorce. Take note: Nearly all of these states also require a minimum length of residency first. So, if you just moved to Arkansas and are filing for divorce, you're in for a very long wait.
Worst Divorce Processing Times
- 540 Days — Arkansas
- 510 Days — Rhode Island
- 420 Days — Nebraska
- 360 Days — New York
- 360 Days — California
Worst "Wait Times" or "Cooling-Off Periods"
- 365-day separation — South Carolina
- 365-day separation — North Carolina
- 6-month separation — Vermont
- 6-month "cooling-off period” (after the paperwork is filed) — California
States With the Quickest Divorce Processes
These include residency requirements, "cooling-off periods," and processing times.
- 30 days — Alaska
- 42 days — Nevada
- 60 days — South Dakota
- 62 days — Idaho
- 80 days — Wyoming
Other Factors That Lengthen Divorces
Kids, Businesses, and Assets or Estates
"If the couple has children, a business, a portfolio of assets (both physical, monetary, or otherwise), or has an estate that needs careful planning for the future, it can slow the proceedings down to well past a year," says Brian D. Joslyn, a family law attorney from Ohio.
He continues, "Any sort of bitterness and in-fighting also harm the process. Children require parenting schedules to be discussed and agreed upon. Businesses can be relatively direct — say, in the case of a small business that's essentially two proprietors — or very complex as they grow in size and operations. Portfolios and estates can add many layers into the mix depending on the assets, how they can be split, and agreeing on everything. This is why you often see high net worth couples taking quite a bit of time to finalize their divorce. Don't get me wrong, high-net-worth couples with a gaggle of children and tons of assets can achieve a swift divorce. But it's rarer and completely reliant on their behavior towards one another and being amicable. As with most things involving relationships, communication is key!"
Your Future Ex's Willingness to Divorce
Is your divorce contested? Meaning, is your partner on the same page as you, or do you feel as though they’ll fight you on this? A potentially huge variable has to do with whether you were the initiator or not. "If you have two relatively sane people (as most do), then it is possible to work through a settlement in a few months — and then sign and file papers with the court, and be divorced in 3-6 months," says Rachel Fishman Green, Esq. from New York.
"There are some cases where it is truly mutual; they are now 'friends,' but no longer lovers. They still like each other and live together without too much conflict, but don't feel that it's ideal for their children to grow up with this relationship as their model," Green explains. "More often, one person has been thinking of divorcing for some time, and the other is blindsided and in shock. Then — in a mediation or collaborative process — since we are working together to negotiate a settlement, we have to give the non-initiating spouse time to catch up. You can't negotiate the structure of a future until you accept that this is your future. That will typically take four to eight months, so maybe it will be a year and a half from the first session to the actual divorce."
What can be used against you during a divorce?
When it comes to divorce, there are a few things a spouse can use against you that may prolong the divorce process. If one spouse was spending marital money on extramarital affairs, grossly overspending or selling items bought within the marriage below market value, these factors can be seen as an issue.
Filing motions can also slow down the divorce process. In some situations, a spouse may hide their assets, so you may be forced to file a motion to get them to reveal information. If a spouse doesn't cooperate or takes a while to show the court the requested information, it could delay the divorce altogether.
Your social media posts, text messages, and emails are also fair game during a divorce. These digital platforms can be used to help a judge identify infidelity or other issues. These cyber trails can be especially harmful if you're going through a custody battle. Although divorces can be extremely emotional, keeping your issues and situations offline is one of the best ways to protect yourself.
Chloe Wolman, Esq.
Brian D. Joslyn, family law attorney
Rachel Fishman Green, Esq.
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