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Hurry Up and Wait
Note: The most popular month to file for divorce is January, when people are past the holidays and starting a new year on a fresh note. With that in mind, here are some thoughts on how long a divorce can take, and how to build patience for the process.
It can take some people years to finally make the decision to leave a marriage.
Once they get there, and they find their attorney and begin the process, they’re probably eager to get it done and move on to the next phase of their lives.
Which is why so many divorce clients are frustrated by “The Wait.”
Divorce cases can, and often do, take on a life of their own.
In the state of Michigan, the soonest a divorce can happen legally when you have children is 6 months. Without kids, the law only requires a 60-day waiting period. But most divorces take longer.
I know, it feels unreasonably long. Here are a few practical and legal points clients should think about as they embark on divorce. I have this conversation all the time to set realistic timeline parameters for my clients because it does take time to complete the process.
- The couple must agree on the terms of the divorce. If you are divorcing, in all likelihood, you and your spouse do not agree on many things. So imagine how long it might take to discuss details like property division, parenting time, spousal and child support and more within the context of your divorce. What can you do to get you and your spouse to agreement?
- A divorce begins when one person files a divorce complaint. That complaint is served – which means delivered – to the other person, usually by a process server or certified mail. The recipient has 21 days to answer the complaint if personally served or 28 days if served by mail.
- Discovery is required in most divorce cases to gain information. Both husband and wife must gather information disclosing assets and liabilities; and often this discovery includes obtaining facts that may be relevant to property division or parenting time.
- There may be hearings to determine details toward resolution. That requires scheduling within the court system where motions are only heard by the judge once each week.
- A pre-trial or settlement conference date is usually scheduled by the court when additional deadlines will be set to keep your case moving forward. A judge may require parenting education classes, mediation or other meetings before the trial date.
- Emotions can cause setbacks. One spouse may not want the divorce and may slow down the proceedings. Emotions can also obscure clients’ focus on the legal matters at-hand. The more we lose focus, the longer “The Wait.”
- You’ll need to divide property and resources. That can include bank accounts, retirement accounts or pension plans, investments, your home, other real estate, a business and more. To propose a property division, a preliminary determination needs to be made to identify what exactly the marital property consists of, and then to value it. It’s a more complex process than it sounds, even in “easy” cases.
- When there are children in a marriage, custody and parenting time must be determined. The same goes for child support and spousal support. If the parties are not in agreement, there are many facts and a lot of information attorneys need to gather (through discovery or other resources) to support a client’s position as to what is in your best interest and the best interests of your children.
Remember, you are not the only divorce happening at this time! The court must juggle all the various cases to schedule dates for everyone. Plus, your attorney has multiple clients and is working on many cases at once.
While this feels like – and may very well be! – the biggest thing happening in your life, in other settings you are one of many, which slows the process.
Ultimately, keep in mind that your divorce will finish and you will be able to put this difficult time behind you as you enter a new phase of life with strength and optimism. Focusing on how long it takes doesn’t make it go faster.
But you can be a partner to the process, easing your perspective about “The Wait.”