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How Long Does Divorce Take?

It will take a judge no less than six weeks to confirm a filing for divorce. But that's after you file. From negotiation to separation, here's how to speed up the process.

Even if you’re looking forward to the certitude of having your divorce finalized, the process is never fun, easy, or fast. According to relationship and marriage expert Dr. John Gottman, couples wait an average of six years of being unhappy before doing something about it. So by the time you decide to divorce, you’re likely into the better half of a decade with a discontented relationship. And that’s before you’ve even filed.

But even after you’ve filed for a divorce, finalizing it can take time. The steps of processing and finalizing a divorce vary state by state, and it largely depends on how easily you and your soon-to-be-ex come to agreements. There are ways, however, to speed up the process. Here are some things to keep in mind.

The Fundamentals

Do you and your spouse have children? Do you agree on how child support, legal custody, physical custody, and property division will work? If not, and you’re entering divorce-land with contested issues and two lawyers who become zealous advocates for individual interests instead of collaborations, you could be in for a ride.

A faster, easier option? Hire a mediator. “The first call for help shouldn’t be the divorce lawyer because they create enemies out of divorcees and end up getting their clients to fight about things that the mom and dad didn’t even care about to begin with,” says Molly Olson, co-founder of Leading Women for Shared Parenting and founder of the Center for Parental Responsibility. “Divorce lawyers create conflict because that turns into more billable hours for them — and more time wasted for you.” According to Olson, parents can come to agreements with their mediator and file a pro-se motion to file a joint agreement and get it signed by a judge — no lawyers.

Getting Your Finances in Order

Pro tip: don’t play dumb and try to hide money during divorce settlements. That’s an awful (and illegal) idea — and just opens you up to more than you probably bargained for. Couples who muddy the waters with undisclosed finances and alimony claims often end up spending more than anticipated in lawyer fees.

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Olson says she recently worked with a couple who spent somewhere between $30,000 and $60,000 in lawyer fees while trying find out how much money the other had and it created an intense conflict. “They finally realized that could’ve bought two cars with the money they spent trying to get money from the other before coming to a compromise with a mediator and finding a less costly way more amicable, solution-oriented, and child-focused way that met the needs of their family and made sure that their children have the necessities to grow up healthy and happy,” Olson says.

Making It Official

It often takes a judge between six weeks and 12 months to sign the official divorce papers once you and your spouse come to agreements and files them. Courts across the country are plagued with the burden of having way too many family law cases to sort through in a timely fashion — and when you tops that off with municipal judicial systems being understaffed and underfunded, you’ve got yourself a waiting game. And since that six weeks to 12 months that it will take your judge to sign your papers is largely out of your hands, what leads up to this is the crux of what can create a divorce that seems to last forever — or really just two years too long.