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One question frequently asked about divorces is: “how long will this take?” Like many good legal questions, the answer depends. 

Most states have a statutory waiting period between when you file for divorce and when the divorce can be granted. It can be anywhere from the same day in Alaska to 180 days (6 months) in Louisiana. Consult a local attorney to learn more about your state’s waiting period. 

Apart from the statutory waiting period, there are several factors that can affect how long a divorce can take. One important factor is whether a divorce is contested, as opposed to an uncontested divorce.

Contested Divorce

A contested divorce is a disputed case when the spouses cannot (or are unwilling to) reach an agreement on important issues. Such issues can include child support, child custody, property division, division of retirement assets and alimony. For this reason, contested divorces typically take more time and are more expensive than uncontested divorces. 

Contested divorces typically begin with filing of a divorce petition or complaint, then service process (like “knock, knock, you’ve been served) of that document to the other party. Once the other party responds, the “fight” begins. The ongoing legal battle and tactics can include motions, hearings, discovery (or information gathering), custody evaluation, settlement negotiations, mediation, and eventually trial. Because of certain waiting periods between these divorce stages, the whole process can take well over a year to finalize, sometimes several years. In addition, if one spouse is unhappy with the outcome, they might appeal the decision to a higher court, which could take several more years.

Uncontested Divorce

An uncontested divorce is a case where the spouses have determined what they want to happen in the divorce and agree on the outcome. These kinds of cases are typically shorter and less expensive than contested divorces because the parties are not as reliant on their attorneys and the court. Each state has their own requirements for uncontested divorces, so make sure to consult with a local attorney for specific requirements. 

Because both spouses have already reached an agreement about their divorce, there is no need to respond to the petition, attend hearings and motions, go through the discovery process or settlement negotiations, or go to trial. Therefore, the parties need only wait for the statutory waiting period to pass before filing their final documents.

Sometimes, if spouses cannot reach an agreement on every single issue, but they want to save money, the parties attend mediation. Mediation can either be voluntary or court ordered. A neutral third-party will facilitate a conversation between the parties in the hopes of reaching a resolution on the issues presented. Mediation is a wonderful alternative for spouses that don’t want to fight in court but still have issues to resolve. 

Some divorce lawyers, like those at Felt Family Law & Mediation, are both attorneys and mediators who can help litigate a contested divorce or help mediate an uncontested divorce. Attorneys who are also adept mediators can help parties explore all options.

Any type of divorce is complex. If you are considering a divorce or if you have been served with divorce papers, be sure to consult with an attorney in your local area.