Anyone at the outset of a time- and resource-intensive process like divorce wants to know how long the process will take. It seems like a straightforward enough question. So why is it so hard to get an answer?
Here’s the challenge: how long your particular divorce will take depends heavily on factors unique to you and your spouse, that can only be known as your case unfolds.
How long your particular divorce will take depends heavily on factors unique to you and your spouse, that can only be known as your case unfolds.
Imagine asking a contractor how long renovations on your home will take, without the contractor having any idea of the scope of the renovations, the condition your house or apartment is in, how many permits you’ll need to get, from which different agencies, or how long it will take each subcontractor to complete their piece of the overall project. It could take weeks for a small, efficient renovation. It could take years for a large and/or inefficient job. Your project will likely be somewhere in between those two extremes.
In the divorce world, the factors that impact the length of your divorce process include:
- How many issues do you have to talk about? It’ll generally take longer to discuss the divorce-related issues in your case if you have three kids under the age of 18, vastly different earning capacities between spouses, and a number of different assets and liabilities on your family balance sheet than it will if you have no kids, earn roughly on par with one another, and have very little in the way of assets or liabilities.
- How complex are the issues you have to discuss? Dividing 401(k)s tends to be simple. Dividing a business interest, less so. The more complex the issues you have to discuss, generally (but not always), the longer they take to resolve.
- How far apart are you on the issues you have to discuss? You can have 10 different topics to discuss, but mostly see eye-to-eye on them, or have one topic to discuss, but be deeply divided on it. If you begin the process pretty far apart on substantive topics, your process will take longer to resolve.
- How quickly can you move off of your original position? How flexible can you be? You and your spouse may not be far apart on a given issue (e.g., disagreeing about one day / week in your parenting schedule), but the less flexibility you both have around the issue, the longer it takes to resolve.
- How much time will you regularly devote to the process? People are busy, and it’s hard to find time to meet regularly to discuss your divorce. If you can only meet once every six months, your divorce process will likely take a while. If you can meet every two weeks, or even once a month, your process will move more quickly.
- How motivated is each of you to resolve your divorce? How much does each of you accept the end of your relationship? This one’s less tangible, perhaps, than the others, but it has real impact. If one of you is not ready for the relationship to end, or hasn’t accepted that it is ending, your process will move more slowly, whether you’re working within or outside of the court system.
When you begin to take in the various factors that impact the length of an individual divorce process, you start to get a sense for how it would be impossible to predict with accuracy and confidence the length of your divorce process.
In fact, albeit frustrating, an attorney or mediator not telling you how long your divorce will take is actually a good sign. It tells you that, at least on one issue, the attorney-mediator is more committed to providing you with accurate and realistic information than in telling you what you want to hear.
That willingness on your attorney’s part, to convey realistic if undesirable information to you when needed, is a critical component of an effective attorney-client relationship. And an effective attorney-client relationship = a shorter, more efficient divorce process.