Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How long does the divorce process take?

Everyone has heard horror stories about divorces dragging on for years, with families and children caught in the middle of a seemingly unending war. The reality is that, depending on the parties and their dedication to resolving their outstanding issues, a divorce can take as little as a month, to as long as several years.

For Contested Divorces
Upon the filing of a Complaint for Divorce, the case is assigned to a 14 month track. This means that the courts do not want the entire divorce matter (from initial filing through trial) to take longer that 14 months. Unfortunately, they often take much longer than that, especially if the case is very contentious, there are multiple court appearances to address temporary orders, and/or the parties change counsel.

No earlier than 6 months after the filing of a  divorce complaint, the parties will be assigned a date for a Pre-Trial Conference. At this hearing, the parties must present memoranda to the Judge, letting him/her know what stipulations the parties have reached and what issues remain outstanding. If the parties still cannot resolve their matter following the pre-trial conference, they will be assigned a trial date. Usually, the trial is scheduled for many months after the Pre-Trial Conference. Sometimes, due to the Judge's calendar, the trial is scheduled 9 months out!

If the parties reach an agreement after the Pre-Trial Conference but before trial, they can usually present the agreement on any day that the Judge is hearing cases. The divorce then becomes final 90 days from the hearing date.

In situations where the parties reach an agreement prior to their Pre-Trial Conference and prior to the expiration of 6 months from the date of filing for divorce, the parties must convert their Complaint for Divorce to a Joint Petition for Divorce. This is a simple matter that includes the filing of a Motion, but the extra work is certainly worth the convenience of not having to wait until a full 6 months have gone by.

For Uncontested Divorces
If the parties agree to file Jointly for Divorce, the process is much faster. Once a Separation Agreement has been signed, all of the paperwork is filed with the appropriate court. A docket number and a Judge are assigned to the case, and a hearing date is assigned. On the day of the hearing, the parties present their agreement to the Judge for approval, and the divorce becomes final 120 days thereafter. In many instances, the parties can present their agreement earlier than their assigned hearing date, so long as they obtain permission from the clerk. As such, if the Courts process the paperwork quickly and the parties obtain permission to present their agreement early, the divorce can take as little as a month.

While unexpected conflicts and the Judge's calendar play a role in the length of time a divorce can take, it ultimately falls to the parties. The more contentious the matter, the longer it will take. For this reason, it is always beneficial to do a cost-benefit analysis when fighting over a specific issue. Is the fight worth the cost to prepare for court, attend the hearing and do the follow-up paperwork?  Perhaps not.

(c)2014 by Law Office of Leila J. Wons. The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established. In accordance with rules established by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, this blog must be labeled "advertising."

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