How long does it take to process a divorce?

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1. How long does it take to process a divorce?

When people decide to separate or divorce, they often don't know what to expect. After all, divorce is a complicated legal process. It can be full of unpleasant surprises and annoying delays. It is helpful to review the legal divorce timeline to give you a general understanding of what to expect in your divorce so you can feel more comfortable at an uncomfortable time.
The following timeline gives a general idea of ​​how a typical divorce will play out. However, your divorce may not take place according to the timeline below due to specific issues between you and your spouse or the specific laws in your state.
Learn more about each state's specific laws by downloading FindLaw's Divorce Guide.

2. Start the legal divorce process

To initiate a divorce, one spouse hires an attorney (or they may choose to represent themselves) who will prepare a divorce petition (also called a complaint). A divorce petition is a legal document that outlines why a spouse wants a divorce and how they want to handle finances, child custody, and other issues. A family law attorney will help you navigate this aspect of the process. Your attorney will also advise you on whether legal separation is necessary during the divorce process. A legal separation can establish custody and child or spousal support during the divorce.
You can also choose to represent yourself. This may be a good option if you have an uncontested divorce.

3. File and serve the complaint

Divorce lawyers file lawsuits or complaints with the court. A registration fee will be required. Some states may also require you and your ex-spouse to live apart for a certain period of time or have a waiting period before you can file for separation. Some states will require a waiting period after you file before you can proceed. The attorney or court ensures that the process server serves the petition/complaint on the other spouse, along with a subpoena requiring that spouse to respond. The remaining spouse will be called the “defendant”. Avoiding service of process will not prevent a divorce.

4. Receive your spouse's response to the divorce petition

The served spouse must respond to your request within a certain time frame, usually about three weeks. The answer or response indicates how the served spouse wants the divorce decrees resolved. The response will also indicate whether the served spouse agrees with the request/complaint. If they do not respond to the petition/complaint, the court will assume that they agree to the terms and will automatically grant the divorce.

5. Start the process of sharing assets and exchanging documents

The couple exchanges documents and information about issues such as assets and income. By reviewing this information, spouses and the court can decide how to divide assets and how to handle child support and spousal support. The lawyer will help the couple determine their common property, such as which property is common property and which property is separate property.

6. Participate in mediation or resolution

Sometimes, a couple can voluntarily resolve all or part of their problem through mediation. Some states require divorcing couples to go through this process. During mediation, couples and their attorneys will negotiate the terms of their divorce. These conciliation meetings may be called settlement conferences.
If a settlement is reached, the marital settlement agreement will be presented to the judge in an informal hearing. The judge will ask some basic questions about the facts and determine whether each party understood and chose to sign the agreement.

7. Obtain court approval for a settlement agreement

If the judge approves the agreement and there is an uncontested divorce settlement, the judge will sign a divorce decree stating what they have agreed to. The couple later legally divorced. If there is a dispute or the judge does not approve the marital settlement agreement, the next step is to take the divorce case to trial. The clerk will set a hearing date.

8. Conduct divorce trial

At trial, each side will present evidence and arguments and the judge will decide any unresolved issues, including child custody and visitation, child and spousal support, and division asset. After the judge had made his decision, he declared the divorce. They will sign divorce papers and give the couple a final judgment. This will legally end the divorce proceedings and lead to the dissolution of the marriage. The divorce has been completed.

9. Appeal the judge's decision

One or both ex-spouses can appeal the judge's decision to a higher court. But it is unusual for an appeals court to overturn a judge's decision. Also keep in mind that settlement agreements generally cannot be appealed if both spouses agree to their terms. However, if something needs to be changed, such as child custody arrangements, you can ask the court to modify the divorce decree.

Divorce Timeline: Summary
It's difficult to say how long or how long these steps will take in your case and condition. The entire process can take from several months to several years. For example, in Texas, spouses must wait 61 days after filing for divorce, whether contested or not. The more the couple cooperates and compromises reasonably, the smoother and quicker the divorce will be.
If a situation threatens to lead to a contentious divorce, couples who feel at risk may have options. If there are concerns about domestic violence, the court can intervene by making temporary orders, such as restraining orders and temporary custody arrangements. If you are in a dangerous relationship, you should have an attorney on your side. For more information about available resources, please visit FindLaw's domestic violence section.

Successfully navigate your divorce timeline with an experienced attorney
A divorce attorney can safely guide you through the divorce process and protect your peace of mind, often spotting problems before they become real problems. The divorce process can be complicated and emotional.
From initial guidance on what documents to bring to the initial consultation to advice on hearings, trials and court orders, your divorce lawyer will fight for your best interests . They will provide you with sound and helpful legal advice for your divorce case.

Q&A

Question 1: How long does it typically take to prepare a divorce petition?

Answer 1: The time it takes to prepare a divorce petition can vary depending on several factors, including the complexity of your case, the availability of required documents, and your familiarity with the process. It can take anywhere from a few hours to several days or weeks to complete the necessary paperwork.

Question 2: How long does it take to file a divorce petition with the court once it's prepared?

Answer 2: Once the divorce petition is prepared, the time it takes to file it with the court depends on the court's availability and the procedures in your jurisdiction. Filing can usually be done in a single day, but it may take longer if there are specific court requirements or scheduling issues.
Question 3: What factors can affect the overall duration of the divorce process after filing the petition?

Answer 3: Several factors can impact the duration of the divorce process after filing the petition, including:

Jurisdiction: Different states or countries have varying divorce timelines and requirements.
Type of Divorce: Whether the divorce is contested or uncontested can significantly affect the timeline.
Court Backlog: Court schedules and caseloads can lead to delays in hearings and proceedings.
Dispute Resolution: The time spent negotiating or mediating issues like property division, child custody, and support can extend the process.
Legal Complexity: Complex issues, such as high asset divisions or contentious child custody battles, may prolong the divorce proceedings.

Question 4: What is the average time frame for completing a divorce after filing the petition?

Answer 4: The average time frame for completing a divorce after filing the petition varies widely and can range from a few months to a year or more. In some uncontested cases, where both parties agree on all terms, a divorce can be finalized relatively quickly. However, contested divorces or cases with complex issues may take considerably longer, often extending beyond a year. Consulting with an attorney familiar with your jurisdiction's specific timelines can provide a more accurate estimate based on your unique circumstances.

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