Clients often ask how long their divorce will take. In general, most divorce cases take about 3–9 months to complete.
However, whether your case will take longer than this depends on several factors. These factors include your personality, your spouse’s personality, and the issues in your case. The process can also depend on whether you or your spouse decide that it is tactically beneficial to delay the case. When one side benefits from delay, the case can take much longer to complete.
The Minimum Amount of Time Divorce Can Take—91 Days
Under Colorado law, a divorce cannot take less than 92 days. This is the soonest date you can become divorced due to the law. However, most cases take much longer because there are so many issues involved. These issues include dividing property, determining parenting issues, and even addressing mental health or substance abuse problems.
Starting the Divorce Process
If you are like many of our clients, the process of a divorce “begins” years before you speak with a lawyer and decide to file. For others, the process of divorce can go on long after the court finalizes the official “divorce.”
Some of our clients wait to file the initial legal petition until after settling everything with their spouse. Even in these circumstances, however, the court will still wait for 92 days before entering the final decree of divorce.
Many clients file a petition immediately and this is how most divorces begin. This approach is advised in certain situations. For instance, parties with substantial marital assets might need the court to protect those assets. By filing a petition right away, you can: (1) prevent a parent from moving away with the children, (2) make sure that both parents have quality parenting time, and, (3) protect the children from a parent’s potentially physically or emotionally-damaging behavior. Whatever your circumstance, it can be helpful to have a judge ensure that parties behave themselves.
What to Expect
When to file a petition can be a strategic decision, which is something you and your attorney should discuss. Regardless of how cooperative you and your spouse may be, here are a few things all divorcing couples must consider doing before a judge enters your decree:
- You will need to exchange “Sworn Financial Statements” and make all other mandatory disclosures;
- You must attend parenting classes in all cases where there are children;
- You must file various documents with the court, including Sworn Financial Statements, a Certificate of Compliance certifying that you made all mandatory disclosures, a Parenting Class Certificate (if there are children), and a Mediation Certificate (unless the matter is settled before mediation);
- You will likely need to ask for a temporary orders hearing. This hearing is where the judge will issue interim rules concerning your finances, your home, and other property, and determine which parent will have parenting time and when. These orders remain in place until permanent orders.
- Unless you and your spouse settle the case before reaching this step, you will need to schedule a permanent orders hearing.
- You may need to consult with experts to value your assets or to evaluate parenting issues and make recommendations to the judge.
- You may need to complete a fact-gathering process called “discovery,” which could involve depositions where you, your spouse, or an expert answers a lawyer’s questions under oath.
- You will likely need to prepare a separation agreement and parenting plan (if there are children), which provides detailed descriptions of your settlement and must be filed with the Court.
- If you cannot settle, you will need to prepare witnesses and file exhibits and trial management certificates with the court.
- Again, if you do not settle, you will need to proceed to the permanent orders. At the hearing, the judge will decide your case.
Helpful Advise Going Forward
If you think your case will require extra time, you should talk to your attorney about ways to avoid or limit any delays. There might be ways to resolve your issues more efficiently. For example, you can increase the pace of your divorce by implementing these recommendations:
- Make full, prompt, and honest disclosures;
- Work with your attorney to identify issues, make suggestions, and share ideas about how to resolve any problems;
- Ensure your attorney is actively working with your spouse’s attorney to manage issues quickly;
- Remain open-minded and willing to make and accept reasonable (and realistic) settlement proposals;
- Accept that the divorce is inevitable; and,
- If you cannot reach a fair settlement, prepare to proceed to trial.
Acceptance vs. Denial
In most of our cases, one spouse moves on from the marriage more quickly than the other. For the spouse who moves on quickly, the divorce process can seem like it takes forever. For the spouse holding onto the marriage, he or she might want to pump the breaks as much as possible. In either scenario, the pace of the divorce will end up accommodating the needs of both spouses, which typically leaves the parties somewhere in the middle.
The longer that a party draws out the divorce, however, the more painful it can be. Your attorney should know that an excessively-long case is not only expensive, but it is emotionally draining too. To alleviate this emotional drain and, talk to your attorney about how you can overcome any these hurdles and what steps you might be able to take to help speed the process along.
Nobody marries with an expectation to divorce. However, if you do decide to divorce, it is essential that you do not go through the process alone. As long as you are willing to work with your attorney, your divorce does not have be expensive or emotionally draining. By taking the correct steps, you can get through the process quickly and efficiently.
Emily Warren is a Shareholder at Griffiths Law. Emily’s background was as a prosecutor for the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office before transitioning into family law. Emily is a resolution-oriented divorce attorney and has training in the collaborative divorce process.
Diana Powell is a Senior Counsel at Griffiths Law PC. Diana’s practice focuses on high asset divorce representation and is a leader in Collaborative Law in Colorado.