A common question in divorce cases is how long it will take for the divorce to be completed. The answer to that question depends upon many different factors that are unique to each case. Those factors include the following:
The issues in the case
Some divorce cases are inherently simpler or more complex than others. A divorce involving no children, little property, and little money will be less involved than a divorce case with 5 children and 3 houses. Other issues, such as claims for spousal support, domestic violence, a disabled spouse, etc., will all increase complexity. A more complex divorce case is likely to take longer to resolve. That is true whether the case is one where the parties end up agreeing or proceeding to a contested trial on every issue.
Whether the case is contested or uncontested
Cases where the parties are in agreement as to the terms upon which the divorce case will be resolved are more likely to be resolved quickly. Such uncontested divorces can be resolved in the minimum amount of time that the state law allows for a divorce case. However, the key is that there really is agreement, which requires that both parties understand the issues in the case and the proposed resolutions to each of those issues.
State where the divorce case is pending
Each state has its own requirements for divorce waiting periods. That means that some states will necessarily take longer for a divorce to be finalized than others. For example, the 90 day waiting period in Iowa means that an uncontested Iowa divorce may take longer than an Illinois divorce. However, in many cases such waiting periods don’t really affect the time the case takes to resolve because the parties will often not come to a full agreement until after that waiting period has passed. Indeed, it is common for people to need a few months during a divorce to both calm down and be willing to reach an amicable resolution.
County where the divorce case is pending
In cases where there is not agreement as to how child custody, child support, property, taxes, alimony, or other issues will be resolved, a trial is necessary. At the trial, the judge will decide how to handle any issues that are not agreed to by the parties. Some counties take longer or shorter amounts of time to schedule a trial date, as some counties have busier or less-busy court dockets. This is essentially a function of the judge to client ratio in the county, which means that even a small county that has too few judges may take a long time to handle a case, while a large county with an excess of judges may be speedier.
The attorneys involved in the case
It is a sad fact that some attorney are not particularly swift. Indeed, I know of attorneys who tend to drag their feet in each stage of a divorce case such that when they are opposing counsel I warn my client to expect longer-than-normal delays. While there are some things that can be done to help prod those attorneys along, sometimes the attorney that the other spouse chooses will slow down the divorce process.
Every now and then, something truly out of the ordinary will slow down a divorce case. An example that comes to mind was a fire alarm being pulled at the courthouse, which caused a multi-hour delay in a trial that I was handling a few years ago. Another example, from about 5 years ago, was a blizzard that led to most court appearances for the day being cancelled as even the judges and court reporters were not present in court. An unexpectedly early birth of a child, or a death in the family of a party or judge could also cause an unexpected delay. These sort of events are rare, but can happen.