By now it should be clear that even in the best of circumstances, your divorce will take several months if not years.
And that time is greatly extended if you go to trial. How long will it take, from beginning to end? Family law specialist Pamela Edwards-Swift paints a sobering picture: it could be within a year of filing a petition; it could be within three years or more of filing the petition. It really depends on the court we’re in. You may see the judge on other issues: child support, child custody, and spousal support. You may see the judge on other things. But in terms of the actual trial date, it’s going to take anywhere between a year and three years.
Before your trial even begins you’ll be making multiple court appearances, often for just a few minutes at a time, to address specific issues. Both attorneys will likely file discovery motions, demanding all pertinent information about the case from the other side. This in itself can involve considerable haggling, which in turn consumes more time, both in court and out. While you’re awaiting your trial, the court will need to address short-term practical matters such as who keeps the children, who gets to live in the house, and who makes the payments.
When a pressing issue is not resolved or a new one arises, it usually becomes necessary to schedule another appearance at a later date. And if the attorneys find that they need more time to prepare, they can ask for a continuance or adjournment, further delaying the proceedings. These requests are routinely granted, especially the first time. If a lawyer asks for such postponements repeatedly, it can be a sign of inattention or incompetence— frustrating enough when it’s the opposing attorney, but especially so when it’s your attorney.
All of this is subject to the court calendar, which is probably overloaded already, so you may go weeks or months between appearances. And even when your court date finally arrives, you’ll spend a lot of time sitting and waiting. Typically, your case will be one of several on the docket, and the other cases may take longer than expected. You might be scheduled for 9 a.m. but not come before the judge until noon—or even after lunch. If you need to take time off from work for each appearance, the process can become very inconvenient very quickly. It’s easy to see why divorces can drag on for years!
Meanwhile, much of your life is on hold. You’ll find it hard to buy a new home or to refinance the old one until the divorce is final; with so many unresolved variables, a lender will have no basis for assessing your ability to repay a loan.