If you are considering a divorce or have already started the process, you are probably wondering when you will be officially divorced. The answer depends on several factors. Some are within your control. Others fall under state divorce law. From the time one spouse files the initial complaint, it can take anywhere from two to 12 months to finalize a divorce, depending on how well both spouses work together to achieve a common goal: a divorce agreement.
Here are some common issues that impact the divorce timeframe and some ways to speed up the process.
Factors that Affect the Divorce Timetable
There are many details to be resolved before a divorce is final. The more you know and prepare for these issues early on, the better chance you have of avoiding common divorce roadblocks and moving the process along as quickly as possible.
Here is an overview of common issues that affect the divorce timeframe:
- Your location and the divorce requirements in your state
- Whether you are filing a no-fault or fault-based divorce
- If you are able to locate and serve your spouse with divorce papers
- If your divorce is contested or uncontested
- The extent of your marital assets and if they are easy, or not so easy, to locate and valuate
- If conflicts regarding child custody and visitation require an evaluation from third-party expert
- If your local family law court is running on time or has a backlog of cases
State of residence. Every state has its own guidelines for divorce. Most require individuals to verify they have resided in that state for a certain period before filing.
In New Jersey, at least one spouse must be a resident of the state for at least a year prior to filing. The only exception to this residency requirement is if adultery is involved. In that case, one spouse must have lived in New Jersey for any period prior to filing. If a spouse is new to New Jersey, this residency requirement may add some time to the divorce.
Some states also require couples to complete a separation period. Looking at the state of New Jersey again, couples seeking a no-fault divorce must be voluntarily separated without interruption and no hope for reconciliation for at least 18 months. However, there is no formal process or form to establish that separation period. If you have questions about this separation period and if it makes sense to sign a separation agreement, contact your lawyer.
If 18 months sounds like long time to wait, consider filing on the basis of irreconcilable differences, which comes with a shorter, six-month waiting period in the Garden State. If one spouse files for divorce on fault grounds, there is no waiting period to file for divorce; however, there are specific guidelines to meet each category of fault.
Fault or no-fault divorce. it makes sense to discuss what fault means in terms of divorce or dissolution of the marriage. Of course, when couples divorce, they are likely to blame each other for the various failures in the marriage. However, in a legal context, fault means something much more specific.
Either spouse can file for fault-based divorce on the grounds of:
- Constructive desertion
- Deviant sexual behavior
- Divorce from bed and board
- Extreme mental or physical cruelty
- Habitual drunkenness or drug habituation
Each of these grounds for fault divorce has their own specific guidelines in New Jersey. For example, to file for divorce based on imprisonment, the other spouse must be convicted of a crime requiring at least 18 months of time served in jail.
For institutionalism, one spouse must be deemed certifiably insane and reside in a hospital or other institution for at least two years. An experienced divorce lawyer can tell you if you meet any of the grounds for fault-based divorce in New Jersey.
Irreconcilable differences. These fault-based scenarios are highly specific and not as widely used as the more commonly cited irreconcilable differences. A no-fault divorce based on irreconcilable differences means neither spouse was to blame for the end of the marriage. It just no longer works and is beyond repair.
Because spouses are not required to submit proof for this option, it is much smoother and faster path to divorce. No-fault divorce eliminates blaming and the disputes that tend to drag out the divorce process.
Again, to file for divorce based on these grounds, one spouse must have lived in New Jersey for at least 12 months prior to filing and the couple must have experienced irreconcilable differences for at least six months with no prospect of reconciliation.
Contested or uncontested divorce. A divorce can really go one of two ways. It can proceed amicably, or it can turn bitter. You know your spouse. Are they likely to collaborate with you to resolve the key issues such as custody, alimony, and splitting assets, or are they going to fight you every step of the way?
A contested divorce, in which one or multiple issues cannot be easily resolved, can take much longer than an uncontested divorce that is resolved out of court. Once the residency and six-month period of irreconcilable differences requirements have been met, an uncontested divorce can be completed in as little as six to eight weeks from the date of filing.
When spouses cannot agree on certain divorce terms, these issues must be resolved in family court. That can add up to as much as a year on to your divorce, depending on the caseload in your county court. Talk to your lawyer about collaborative divorce, mediation, and ways you can reduce the waiting period for your divorce.
Child custody conflicts. Child custody is one of the most contentious and complex issues that slow down the divorce process, and with good reason. When precious parenting time is at stake, it makes sense that divorcing parents are willing to fight for custody of their child, no matter how long it takes.
In some child custody disputes, one parent accuses the other of being unfit. They may accuse their ex-spouse of using drugs; engaging in criminal activity; or being mental, physically, or sexually abusive to them or their child. The state’s goal is always to rule in child custody cases in a way that honors the best wishes of the child, above than anything else.
To do that, they may require the guidance of a third-party professional to observe the family and make their recommendation for the ideal custody arrangement for the child’s health and well-being. That professional might be a therapist, psychologist, or physician. Any child custody dispute will add time to your divorce, especially when third-party experts are involved.
Distribution of marital property. The division of property is another divorce matter that tends to lead to conflict. It takes time and care to catalog all the many types of assets acquired during the marriage, including items such as homes, vehicles, investment accounts, antiques, jewelry, and businesses.
Once assets are identified, their value must be determined. This often requires the expertise of a financial advisor or business appraiser, again adding more time to the divorce process. Because high-asset divorces involve more complex financial details, they tend to take longer than more simple, straightforward divorces.
Spouse hiding assets. If you suspect your spouse is hiding assets, it is best to reach out to your lawyer. Although it may take time to investigate, you do not want to take a chance of walking away from assets for which you may be entitled. Your lawyer may enlist the services of a forensic accountant to dig deeper and look for investments, property, and other assets your soon-to-be ex-spouse did not disclose.
A Skilled Lawyer Can Help the Process Go More Smoothly
As noted, there are many different variables that can delay your divorce. But one fact is universal. The right divorce lawyer can help you avoid common roadblocks that stall the process. They can help you see where it is best to compromise, and when to hold your ground. Your divorce agreement will impact your future, so make sure it aligns with your goals and vision for your post-divorce life.
Somerville Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Can Help You Avoid the Common Pitfalls That Delay Divorce
It is never smart to rush the divorce process. The terms you determine now will have an impact on your family and your finances for years to come. However, the Somerville divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. help you focus on what really matters so you can reach your goal faster, and with less conflict. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.