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How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce?

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Roughly every 36 seconds, there is a divorce happening in the US.

It’s unfortunate, but it happens — and you should know what to expect if you are thinking about going down this road. If you’re considering getting a divorce, it’s important to know the timeline and steps involved. One of the most common questions about this process is, “how long does it take to get a divorce?”

From the components within divorce proceedings to the time it takes, this guide will walk you through everything you need to know. Keep reading to learn more!

How Long Does It Take To Get a Divorce?

In general, the divorce process takes an average of 8 to 12 months from start to finish. The time frame can vary from as few as three months to as many as 18 months or more. It all depends on your unique circumstances and how you and your spouse resolve them, either with a settlement agreement or a court order.

It’s important to keep in mind that the divorce process starts as soon as you file the paperwork, and there are steps you’ll need to complete along the way.

For example:

You or your spouse may have children together and/or from a prior relationship. If so, you will need to work out child custody and visitation arrangements, as well as financial support and child support.

You’ll need to decide how you want to divide your property, assets, and debts. If you have substantial assets such as real estate or a business, this may take more time than if you don’t.

Some couples even resolve custody and visitation when they first separate, without filing for divorce. You can live apart when you reach an agreement about these important issues. This is a “separation agreement.”

What Is a Separation Agreement?

A separation agreement is a contract that both parties sign, in which they agree on how they want to handle living arrangements, child custody and support, property division, and other issues.

If you reach an agreement on these matters without filing for divorce or legal separation, you can enter into a written contract called a “separation agreement.”

If you wish, you can file this contract with the court when you file for divorce. Keep in mind that if you do this, your case will take longer to complete.

There are two main types of separation agreements:

Separation agreement with “fault” earlier than one year before filing for divorce (when either or both spouses acknowledge that one spouse is at fault for the breakdown of the marriage). Separation agreement without “fault” earlier than two years before filing and both spouses agree on all matters.

What If I Seek a Legal Separation Instead of Divorce?

As previously stated, it may take up to 18 months or more from start to finish. But it’s important to note that the laws vary from state to state, so if you live in one of the states where you can get a legal separation, this timeline will be different.

In general, you’ll need to file a petition with your local court asking for a legal separation instead of a divorce. If you’re eligible, your spouse will receive notice of this petition.

The length of time it takes to complete a legal separation varies, but usually, these cases are simpler than divorce because the issues—such as child custody and visitation rights, division of property, alimony or spousal support payments, and child support—are less likely to come up.

If you have things like real estate or business interests, your case may be more complicated.

Once the court has decided all matters—including visitation arrangements, child custody, and support—the judge will sign a final order that legally separates you, making your marriage void. You can then marry someone else if you wish.

What if I Don’t Know Where My Spouse Is?

If you can’t find your spouse, there are legal remedies to help you serve him or her notice.

For example:

If your spouse has disappeared and you know where he or she banks or works, this may be enough information for the court clerk to grant a “substituted service,” in which another person—usually a friend or relative, who knows where your spouse is likely to be—is served the divorce papers in place of your spouse.

If you can’t find a substitute, a private process server may be able to locate him or her for you, depending on how long your spouse has been missing.

You must show the court that you’ve made “diligent but unsuccessful” efforts to locate your spouse.

If your spouse is avoiding service, the judge may give you more time to serve him or her and grant an extension. But if it’s been more than six months since you filed for divorce (or 12 months in Missouri), the court may not allow an extension.

What If My Spouse and I Reach an Agreement?

If you and your spouse reach an agreement on all matters in your divorce, you might be able to file a motion requesting that the judge approve your separation agreement as part of the final decree. Otherwise, you’ll need to file a new document called a “stipulation” with the court.

Usually, you’ll each hire an attorney to represent you in your divorce or legal separation. If so, your attorneys can create a stipulation that resolves all issues.

What Happens Next?

If there are no disputes between you and your spouse, ask your attorneys to help you file the required documents with the court. You’ll then receive a notice of the hearing date.

For uncontested divorces, hearings take about 15 minutes or less, unless there are other circumstances that the judge will need to address, such as child support.

If there are disagreements on any issues—such as child custody or visitation rights, division of property and assets, spousal support (alimony), and/or child support—you’ll end up in front of a local judge. This process can take much longer than an uncontested divorce.

Understanding Your Next Steps

Now that you know the basic divorce timeline, the next step is up to you. While you can wait out the required period, if you wait too long your state may not allow your divorce.

If you’ve ever asked “How long does it take to get a divorce?”, contact one of our attorneys for a consultation. We can help you get all the information you need.

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