I am often asked “how long will the divorce process take” and my answer is always, “it depends on which of the 3 tracks you and your spouse take to get to the Divorce Decree.
It all starts with the filing of the Petition for Dissolution (with or without minor children)/Legal Separation must be legally “served” upon the other party).
There are 3 possible tracks your legal process can take:
Track 1: Default Process
In a Default case, the person who was served with the legal documents, the Respondent, does nothing to contest or challenge the contents of the Petition which may have included proposals for the division of property and debt, or child related matters such as parenting time and legal decision making. If the Respondent does not file a written Response to the Petition in the time permitted, the person who filed the Petition for Dissolution (aka “Petitioner”) may then apply to the Court to proceed by Default. I typically advise clients that the default process will take about 65 days from the filing of the Petition to receiving the signed Divorce Decree.
Track 2:Consent Process
The Consent case is like Track 1 in that the Respondent usually does not file a written Response to the Petition, because both parties agree on all the legal issues (parenting time, asset and debt division, etc.) and sign a Consent Decree. The Consent Decree will contain all the agreements and required statutory language which will be submitted to the Court for review and signing at the appropriate time. I typically advise clients that if both parties agree on EVERYTHING, the Consent process will take about 65 days from the filing of the Petition to receiving the signed Divorce Decree.
Track 3: Contested Process
In the Contested case, the Respondent, the person who was served with the legal documents, files a written Response with the Court. That written Response challenges or contests claims and/or proposals contained in the Petition. That filed Response will trigger the Court to schedule a hearing, either a Resolution Management Conference if either party has an attorney, or an Early Resolution Conference in neither party has an attorney. From this point on, a Contested case can take several months, or sometimes even years to resolve all the issues. Most contested cases end with a 3 hour evidentiary trial before the Judge who will then issue a final Dissolution Order/Divorce Decree.
Mix of Track 2 and 3
Sometimes during the process of a Contested case, the parties on their own or with the help of mediation are able reach agreements on some or all the issues. If they reach agreements on some issues, they will likely sign a Rule 69 Agreement which will become an Order and be incorporated into their final Decree. However, a trial may still be needed to resolve the remaining issues. If the parties reach agreements on all issues, then it is likely the Parties may submit a Consent Decree to the Court and avoid having to go to trial.