The Rhythm and Timing of Divorce
The two questions a divorce lawyer hears more than any others are: how much does a divorce cost; and how long does a divorce take? The answer to both questions is the same: it depends.
What Affects How Long a Divorce Will Take?
According to statistics, a typical divorce takes between 6 – 12 months. That having been said, it is possible to get divorced much more quickly, and much more slowly, than what is typical.
I, personally, was able to get one of my clients divorced in 10 days. (Yes, that was extremely rare and it only worked because the parties had already been separated for years and were both motivated to move forward quickly.) I have also had clients who spent years getting divorced.
As far as I can tell, trying to predict the timing of a divorce is much like trying to predict the weather: your prediction is wrong almost as often as it is right.
There are three primary factors that affect the amount of time it will take to complete a divorce: complexity, conflict, and emotional processing.
Complexity – As a general rule, the more issues there are in a divorce case, and the more complicated those issues are, the longer the case will take to resolve. A couple that owns a business together, has complicated financial holdings, or has children with special needs will probably have to spend more time going through the divorce process than a couple with no assets and no children.
Conflict – The more you fight, the longer your divorce will take. Period.
Emotional Processing – Divorce is a process, not an event. Just as it takes people time to grieve a death, so, too does it take time to grieve the end of a marriage. The problem is that the two people going through a divorce are rarely, if ever, at the same point in the grieving process when the divorce starts. This, more than anything else, is what makes it so difficult to predict how long a divorce will take.
Understanding the Emotional Process of Divorce
In almost every divorce, each person in the couple plays a distinct role: the one who leaves (i.e. the one who initiates or causes the divorce), and the one who gets left. Even when two people agree that they both want a divorce, there is still usually one person who initiated the divorce and one person who got left.
If you are the person who initiates a divorce, chances are that you started thinking about divorce a long time ago. You may not have said anything about divorce to your spouse. But you realized you were unhappy and you started to emotionally check out of the marriage months, if not years, ago.
If you are the person who gets left, you were very likely unprepared when your spouse said s/he wanted a divorce, or when you discovered that your spouse was cheating on you. You may have been shocked. Yes, you may have known your marriage wasn’t perfect. You may have even known that you and your spouse were both terribly unhappy, But you didn’t think you were really going to divorce.
The person who leaves the marriage first has started to divorce emotionally long before the person who gets left. As a result, that person is much farther along in their emotional processing of the end of the marriage. Conversely, the person who gets left has a lot of emotional work to do before they are ready to let go and move on.
Balancing the Emotional Processing of Divorce
If you are the person who left the marriage first, by the time you and your spouse have actually started the legal process, you are ready to be done! For you, the marriage has been over for a long time. You have already grieved your loss and you are ready to move on.
If you are the person who got left behind, you may have been blind-sided by divorce. You may not have even started to grieve the loss of your marriage. You haven’t thought about what life will be like alone, how you are going to support yourself, or what it will mean to be divorced. You are caught in an emotional hurricane.
In a perfect world, both partners will have completed the emotional processing of their divorce before the legal paperwork has been completed and the judge declares them divorced. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.
How to Move Your Divorce Along More Efficiently
If you are the divorce initiator, the best way to move your divorce forward is to relax! I know it sounds counterintuitive. But, the harder you press for divorce when your spouse isn’t ready, the longer your divorce will actually take.
If you are the person who got left behind, you need to understand what is going on, and consciously focus on processing your emotions in whatever way works best for you. Of, course, that is going to take time. And, no, you can’t rush through the process. But you need to understand that denial is not your friend. The sooner you start to process the fact that you are getting a divorce, the sooner you will start to heal.
Finally, if you have a lot of complicated issues in your case, but you want to move forward quickly, co-operating with your divorce lawyer and any financial professionals involved in your case is key. The sooner you can provide the professionals with the documents they need, and the sooner you can get assets valued and debts tallied and start to separate your financial entanglements with your spouse, the faster and more smoothly your divorce will progress. The more you can work out your issues with your spouse instead of locking horns and fighting about them, the better off you will be.
How Long Does a Divorce Take? Longer than You Think
There is no getting around it: divorce always takes longer and costs more than you think. At least if you know that from the start, you can get your expectations in line. The most important question you need to ask yourself, though, is: what really matters to me?
If getting through your divorce on a rigid timetable is the most important thing in your world, you may be able to move through your divorce quickly. Maybe. But, I can pretty much guarantee that, unless you are married to a doormat, your divorce will be ugly and full of conflict – much more conflict than if you had allowed your spouse to work through the process more naturally.
Even if you can be a little more flexible about time, your divorce will still be painful (sorry, there is no getting around that), but it may not be nearly so ugly. It also might also end up happening more quickly than it otherwise would have, simply because you are not fighting over every lamp and tablecloth you and your spouse ever owned.
So, that leads us back to the original question: how long does a divorce take? (Or, more specifically, how long will your divorce take?) My answer is still: it depends.