How Long Does a Divorce Take and Why It Matters

One of the first things you may ask when coming into my office is “how long will this take?”  That’s normal.  You want to know when everything will be done.

You want to know when you can move out.  Or when your spouse will move out.  You may be concerned about when to list the house for sale.  Maybe you are worried about where to enroll the children in school for the following year.  This may all be dependent upon when the divorce is completed.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer.

I could tell you it “will take as long as it takes,” but you will not be satisfied.  It is almost impossible for me to predict exactly how long before your divorce is final.  There are so many factors that determine the time.  For some of you, it may just take a couple of months.  For others, it may take a couple of years.

In New Jersey, there is Best Practices which states that a divorce should be concluded within one year of the filing of the Complaint for Divorce.  That applies to litigated (court) divorces.  In some parts of the State, it is likely that the judge will set a trial date within a year of the Complaint being filed.  There are some counties where it is more likely that there will not be a trial date for 18 months or more.  I have heard judges tell litigants that they will not get a trial date for three years.

Fortunately, very few people need to go to trial.  Only about three percent of couples who have filed for divorce end up with a trial.  Almost all couples end up settling their case.  Many avoid the lengthy wait for a judge’s decision due to their ability to resolve their differences outside of the courtroom.

In those cases where the parties agree from the onset to resolve their differences outside of court, it can proceed at the pace the couple sets.  If you and your spouse need to hit the “pause” button, you can.  If you both want to move quickly, that usually can happen too.  Your divorce can proceed at the pace you both set in the best interest of you and your family.

When a spouse is not happy about getting divorced, he or she can cause the case to stall.  By not responding on time, not cooperating with discovery requests, asking repeatedly for adjournments and continuances you (or your spouse) can force the divorce to take a lot longer than needed.  Of course, a judge can impose sanctions, dismiss pleadings or order the non-cooperating party to pay the other’s attorneys fees due to the unnecessary delays if the matter is pending before the court.  These remedies can be an incentive for a spouse to stop dragging their feet, but it does not work in every case.

Bottom line is a couple can control how long it will take for their divorce to be final.  If you are like-minded in that you want to complete your divorce in a timely fashion, you could be divorced within a relatively short period of time.  Otherwise, it may be many months (or even years) before you can move on to the next chapter in your life.