One of the first questions that people have after considering divorce is “How long does a divorce take from start to finish?” While this seems like a simple question, the answer depends on several factors, including where you file for divorce, the applicable state laws, and whether you and your spouse agree on the terms of your divorce.
For some couples, a divorce can take just a few weeks while for others, it can take more than a year. If the couple continues to have issues after the divorce is finalized, the divorce process may drag on for years.
Below, we will answer your questions about how long does the average divorce take and the factors that can affect it.
How Fast Can You Get A Divorce?
In theory, a couple can get divorce in a matter of days, but in practice, it usually takes at least three months for a divorce to be finalized.
The process to get a divorce includes several steps. Along each step of the way, there can be delays, such as:
- Preparing divorce paperwork – The first step is to prepare divorce paperwork. This paperwork says that you are seeking a divorce, that you have a right to file for divorce in the specific court, that you have the right to file for divorce based on legal grounds, and what you want the court to do. If you need to establish residency or legal grounds for divorce, this step can take longer.
- Paying the filing fee – You must usually pay a court filing fee when filing your divorce complaint. If you do not have the money to pay the fee, you will usually need to wait to save for it or ask the court to allow you to file the divorce in forma pauperis, which may require a separate order from the court that allows you to make your filing without having to pay a fee that would serve as an economic hardship for you.
- Serving your spouse – You must usually legally serve your spouse with the divorce papers unless he or she waives this right. Legal service may require you to track down your spouse. If you cannot do this, you may be able to serve by publishing notice at the court and in a local newspaper, but this can further delay the process.
- Responding to the divorce complaint – Once your spouse is served with the legal paperwork, he or she has a certain amount of time by law to provide a response to it.
- Responding to other divorce pleadings – Your spouse may file a counterclaim for divorce, a motion to dismiss, or other divorce pleading that you may have to respond to.
- Carrying out the discovery process – Many divorce cases involve some discovery in which you and your spouse require the other to answer questions, make admissions, or provide certain documents.
- Setting a court date – You will need to set a hearing date when you and/or your spouse will present your case to the court. This will largely depend on the court’s docket. There may be a different docket for uncontested cases and contested cases.
- Engaging in mediation or parenting classes – You and your spouse may choose to or be required to engage in mediation or parenting classes, especially if you have children together.
- Negotiating the terms of your divorce – You and your spouse may negotiate the terms of your divorce like property division and child custody on your own, with the help of lawyers, or through mediation. It may take several rounds of negotiations before you reach a final agreement.
- Going through trial – If you and your spouse do not agree on the terms of your divorce, you will have to go through trial so that the court can make decisions for you.
How Long Does It Take To File Divorce Papers?
Filing divorce papers is a process that does not require much time. The amount of time it takes largely depends on whether you have a lawyer and how long they take to prepare your papers.
Waiting Periods & Separation Requirements
After you file your divorce papers, you may have a mandatory waiting period, such as 30 or 90 days. This is based on state law. In some states, you may be able to waive this waiting period.
Some states also impose a waiting period after your divorce papers are signed before the divorce is final.
If you do not have at-fault grounds to seek a divorce, you may have to wait for a certain amount of time before you can file for divorce based on separation. If you are wondering about how long to wait for divorce after separation, this will largely depend on your state’s laws and your personal circumstances.
Many states and counties also have residency requirements that mandate you have been a resident of the state for a certain amount of time before you file for divorce in that state and county.
All of these waiting periods can increase the amount of time it will take before you are eligible to file for divorce and have your divorce finalized.
How Long After Divorce Papers Are Signed Is It Final?
In some states, you and/or your spouse may appear in front of the judge, the judge signs your divorce decree, and your divorce is final on the same day. In other states, you may have to present the court with your divorce papers ahead of time and receive the divorce decree after the judge approves the papers.
Your divorce is generally not final until the judge signs a divorce decree for your case. The amount of time it takes for you to receive your divorce decree depends on the state where you file, the docket, and the court’s internal policies.
Contested vs. Uncontested
A contested divorce case is one in which you and your spouse do not agree on some material provision of your divorce, such as:
- Property division
- Child support
- Spousal support
- Allocation of debt
- Child custody
In an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse agree on these provisions.
How Long Does A Contested Divorce Take?
A contested divorce case will generally take at least six months and more likely a year in order to complete the various processes involved in this type of divorce, including:
- Divorce complaint, response, and counterclaim
- Pretrial motions
- Mandatory mediation
How Long Does An Uncontested Divorce Take?
An uncontested divorce usually takes about three months to conclude unless you live in a state with a longer waiting period, such as California, which has a six-month waiting period.
How Long Does A Joint Divorce Take?
A joint divorce is one in which the court allows you and your spouse to request the divorce together. Because you and your spouse agree on everything and prepare your own divorce settlement before filing for divorce, this can greatly speed up the process. In some states, you can present your joint divorce at the next available court date and get divorced at that time.
How Long Does It Take To Get A Divorce Settlement?
This largely depends on how much time you and your spouse take to reach an agreement.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce In Each State?
Here is the waiting period for each state:
Can I Get Divorced In A Different State?
You must generally get divorced in the state where you or your spouse is a resident. This will usually be the state where you and your spouse currently live unless you have recently moved.