Why Does it take so Long to Get a Divorce?

The 5 Main Reasons Getting a Divorce Takes So Long...

  1. Your Emotions: The More You Fight, the Longer it Takes- this is the primary reason for delays.

The number one reason why divorce takes so long is that the people going through it are full of emotions. Those emotions slow everything down and increase costs. Fighting takes time. Stonewalling causes delays. Doing things on purpose just to aggravate your spouse usually makes your spouse do the same thing to you. While you and your spouse are engaged in an endless game of “tit for tat,” the clock ticks on, and in turn costs are incurred. Meanwhile, everyone gets frustrated. The person who filed for divorce usually wants it done yesterday. But that person also usually wants the divorce resolved on THEIR own terms. When things don’t work out the way they want, they often get angry, restful and at times even rageful. They fight. That chews through time and money. The person who didn’t file for divorce often doesn’t care how fast the divorce goes. S/he is still trying to deal with the emotional trauma that comes with the realization that his/her marriage is over. So s/he often drags his/her feet, often only getting things done when s/he has no choice. The person whose spouse filed for divorce is also likely to feel victimized, wronged, bullied and scared. As a result, s/he usually doesn’t want to settle the divorce on his/her spouse’s terms – even if those terms are objectively reasonable! As long as a couple is locked into an “I’ll make you pay!,” or an “I’ll do it when I’m damned good and ready” mindset, their case will drag on. (And, both of them will pay!) The bottom line is that until BOTH spouses start to deal with their emotions, resolving their divorce will take way longer than either of them imagined. As a fellow divorce professional has so expertly noted: “Divorce only goes as fast as the slowest person.”
  1. The System: The Divorce Court System Has Built-in Delays

Many jurisdictions have mandatory “cooling off” periods built into their divorce laws. Some laws require a couple to be separated for a certain amount of time before they can file for divorce. Others require a couple to wait for a specific amount of time after they file for divorce before they can finalize their divorce. If the divorce law in your jurisdiction has a waiting period built into it, then you have to wait until that period has passed before you can get a divorce. Period. Your divorce simply can’t be done any faster than that. Another reason that cases get delayed is because of the family court rules. Every time you or your spouse files a motion in court, you have to give each other a certain number of days advance notice that you will be presenting that motion in court. The party against whom the motion is directed will also get time to respond to it. After that, you’ve got to get a motion date or more likely a case conference date as the initial intervention by the court. If the court’s calendar is full, whereas a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is really full, you may have to wait weeks or even months to get that date. The same thing is true for the next motion that gets filed, and the next. And so it goes. Every single thing that happens in court is governed by rules. Many of those rules have time frames associated with them. Sometimes those time frames can be sped up. But, more often they’re dragged out.
  1. The Lawyers: Divorce Lawyers Aren’t Known For Speed

Everyone going through a divorce thinks that lawyers purposely drag out divorce cases so that they can make more money. After all, divorce lawyers bill by the hour. The longer a case drags on, the more money the lawyer is likely to make. In some rare cases, that’s probably true. There are divorce lawyers who purposely “fuel the fire” of conflict to make their cases take longer. There are divorce lawyers who drag their feet, knowing that in doing so, they’ll make more money. But there are far fewer divorce lawyers like that than most people think. Most divorce lawyers are genuinely trying to do a good job. They are ethically obligated to be thorough.  They work hard to get the best deal possible for their client. The problem is that being thorough and fighting for your client takes time. It takes a LOT of time.
  • You can’t get the best deal possible for your client if you’re willing to jump on the first offer the other side makes.
  • You can’t make sure you didn’t miss anything unless and until you explore EVERY possibility first.
  • Most of all, you can’t win in court unless you’re willing to fight. That, too, takes time.
  • Finally, divorce lawyers also tend to be slow because of the nature of divorce cases.
The same number of cases that a lawyer can comfortably handle when those cases go slowly will crush the lawyer if they all start heating up at the same time. What’s more, it’s often impossible to predict whether or when any particular case will blow up. For all of those reasons, it often takes divorce lawyers longer to take action than their clients would like.
  1. Your Finances: Sorting Through Complex Financial Situations Takes Time

There can be many reasons why the financial end of divorce goes slowly. But the main reasons are:
  1. Someone is dragging their feet in producing financial information and preparing their NFP;
  2. Someone is trying to hide money or assets;
  3. The couple has assets (e.g. a house, a pension, or a business) that need to be valued by an outside expert; or
  4. The couple’s financial situation is genuinely complex.
Not every divorcing couple has a complicated financial situation. But if one spouse won’t produce information, or is trying to hide assets, sorting through even the simplest financial situation will be time-consuming. Getting an expert to value an asset, especially a business, also takes an incredible amount of time. In order to do a proper valuation, the expert needs access to a small mountain of financial information. S/he has to do research. S/he has to write a report. All of that takes time. Finally, some couples do have complicated finances! If both spouses owned various assets on the date of their marriage, and they don’t have a prenup pr cohabitation agreement, then every asset has to be valued as of the date of the marriage and as of the date of the divorce. If a couple owns lots of stocks, bonds, and other investments, then they may need detailed tax advice before they can start dividing their property. Getting that advice takes time. In short, the more complicated a couple’s finances are, the longer their divorce is likely to take.
  1. Someone’s Strategy: Delay Can Be a Strategic Choice

Getting divorced quickly is not always in everyone’s best interest. Because of that, one spouse may purposely take steps to slow things down. Sometimes, the slower spouse’s reasons may be positive. For example, if the couple’s children are having serious problems adjusting to their parents’ divorce, then slowing down the pace of that divorce may make a lot of sense. Other times, the delay may be both spouses’ choice. For example, if a couple needs to sell their home before they can get divorced, then their divorce may drag on while the house sits on the market. Still, other times, one spouse (usually the one who wants the divorce) will consciously choose to slow down the divorce in order to give the other spouse time to work through his/her emotions. While doing that may seem hopelessly naïve, in some circumstances, it actually makes sense. A spouse who is an emotional wreck will often fight just to fight. A spouse who has had the time to process his/her emotions is much more likely to act somewhat rationally in his/her divorce. Giving both spouses the time to work through their emotions often results in a faster, and more amicable divorce. Finally, one spouse can also delay the divorce process for less than altruistic reasons. For example, if one spouse is unemployed and the other spouse is supporting him/her during the divorce, the unemployed spouse may not be motivated to settle his/her divorce quickly.

So Why Does Divorce Take So Long?

Like everything else in divorce, the answer is: it depends. What’s true in almost every divorce, however, is that delays are nerve-wracking! While you’re caught in the middle of a divorce, your entire life is on hold. You often don’t know what your financial situation is going to be like. You may not know where you’ll be living or what kind of schedule you will ultimately have with your kids. You may need to retain a mediator or a forensic evaluator to assist you with carving out a nuanced and specific parenting plan for your children. This will result in delays as well. While you may feel like you’re ready to start dating, you may be hesitant to do that until your divorce is final. In short, you’ll probably feel like you’re caught in marital limbo: you’re not really married, but you’re not divorced either. Meanwhile, your divorce costs just keep mounting.

What Can You Do to Make Your Divorce Go Faster?

The short answer to how you can speed up your divorce is to come to an agreement with your spouse. If the two of you can agree on all of your issues, you can usually get divorced relatively quickly. A mediator may be very helpful in helping you craft a parenting plan and thus move you along on the, at times, rocky road of divorce. But getting an agreement isn’t always easy (or possible!). If you don’t have full financial information, settling your divorce would be reckless and premature. If your kids aren’t doing well, then putting them first may mean you have to take your divorce slower. Finally, if your spouse simply won’t settle with you, your only choice is to go to trial or an alternative dispute resolution process such as mediation or mediation/arbitration. But getting a trial date means dealing with a court system that often moves at a glacial pace and even more so since the pandemic which has caused countless delays for all. So sometimes, when your divorce is taking way too long, the only thing you can do is to be patient. If you can push your lawyer, great. Do it. If you can motivate your spouse to settle, by all means: do it. But if you’ve done everything you can, and your divorce is still dragging on you are left with only two choices:
  • Make yourself miserable, restful, and angry about how long it’s taking; or a better alternative is to...
  • Take a deep breath and just be patient.
Those may not be the choices you want. But realizing they’re the only choices you have will at least make your divorce mildly less frustrating.