Why Does Divorce Take So Long?

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No one wants to get stuck in a divorce that drags on for years. Yet, many divorces do exactly that. So, why does divorce take so long if everyone wants it to be over asap?

There are many reasons. But most of those reasons fall into five general categories:

The 5 Main Reasons Divorce Takes So LongCouple screaming in each other's faces. Wonder why does divorce take so long?!

1. Your Emotions: The More You Fight, the Longer it Takes

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.

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.

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 terms. When things don’t work out the way they want, they often get angry. They fight. That chews through time.

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 coach has so expertly noted: “Divorce only goes as fast as the slowest person.”

2. The System: The Divorce Court System Has Built-in Delays

Many states 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 state 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 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 hearing date. If the court’s calendar is full, you may have to wait weeks or 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.

Divorce attorney advising client.

3. The Lawyers: Divorce Lawyers Aren’t Known For Speed

Everyone going through a divorce thinks that divorce 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 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. Yet if those cases don’t heat up, the lawyer won’t have enough to do.

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.

4. 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;
  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, 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.Letter cubes spelling planning and strategy. What's your divorce strategy.

5. 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.

CLose up of a male hand showing watch. Why does divorce take so long?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.

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 going up.

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.

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. But getting a trial date means dealing with a court system that often moves at a glacial pace.

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 and angry about how long it’s taking; or
  • 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.

Head shot of Karen Covy in an Orange jacket smiling at the camera with her hand on her chin.

Karen Covy is a Divorce Coach, Lawyer, Mediator, Author, and Speaker. She coaches high net worth professionals and successful business owners to make hard decisions about their marriage with confidence, and to navigate divorce with dignity.  She speaks and writes about decision-making, divorce, and living life on your terms. To connect with Karen and discover how she can help you, CLICK HERE.


dealing with divorce, divorce advice, divorce attorney, divorce blog, divorce process

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  • Thanks. As the victim of a lengthy (2 1/2 years) divorce due to spouses refusal to sell home, I have suffered greatly, both emotionally and financially as she drags her feet. I think I’m seeing a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, I just hope it isn’t a train coming at me!!

  • So Karen, my soon to be ex is having a hard time because my lawyer worked out the financial status for my maintenance and he’s complaining because it’s gone up $500 more than what he’s paying now because he’s 9000 in the rear he’s telling me that help with his job so he won’t have to pay my maintenance and telling me to put on my big girl panties and get another job . I won’t let him bully me anymore I’m tired of it , I have been in an abuseive relationship for 25 years without even knowing how abusive he’s really been . So no more being nice to him . This is what he owes me . I need ur help !!!

    • I wish I could help you, but it sounds like you need a good divorce lawyer in your area! That’s the only person who can help you get your soon to be ex to pay up. (Sorry!)



  • This was so helpful to me right now, to be able to take that deep breath you mentioned and allow myself to be patient

  • I recalled in your book “When Happily Ever After Ends” that you said that time it was going to take was the time that it was going to take. It was among the biggest take-aways that I had. Letting go of the emotion of time brought me peace knowing that if I exerted pressure on the situation, it might just put the timeline back. In the end, it did take longer than I expected, however my attitude about that time allowed me to continue on with my present life, search for counseling that would help, and in the end (now divorced) bring the comfort of knowing that I did the best I could under the circumstances. Your description of hitting a Mack truck on a deserted road in the middle of winter still hits home, but knowing that there are tools like your book, your programs and your advice have really been a god-send. Thanks for all the support!

  • I have been married 32 years. My husband I recently purchased (joint property) a four-plex, single unit in Gettysburg, PA.
    We have done a similar thing years ago in CA. However, when loading up the U-Haul, I realized that I had packed up most of the
    stuff, and my clothes, necessary to spend several months at a time back there, but my husband just brought a large suitcase of items
    to leave in closet there. I have done volunteer work for years, but no paying job for 18 years. My husband is a self-employed CPA, and is 66 yrs old (collects social security now) and seems to be “reducing” his income, selling off his tax clients to a possible other CPA this year, and working less
    contract jobs at other lumber companies, too. He has also now stated he will “only visit the Gettysburg place 3 or 4 times a year” and “doesn’t know how things will be or where we will live in two years, or five years” . I think he set up this scenario: we are both History Nerds and love Civil War history and volunteer there off and on over the years, so getting a second home there seemed rational, to me. I now believe he will try to prove I am abandoning primary home in WA State, and may have a serious girl friend (or even may be his currently divorcing ex-wife). Should I refuse to spend only two weeks per month in Gettysburg, but be saving up for lawyer in mean time? Seriously worried about lack of real communication as well.

    • I don’t know whether you should or shouldn’t spend only two weeks per month in Gettysburg. But it might do you a lot of good to talk to lawyers in the states you live in to find out what your legal options are in case you are heading down the road to divorce.

      Also, I don’t know the state of your marriage, or whether you want to work on it or not. But, if you do, now is the time. A good marriage counselor can help you two start communicating more and better. That may help you figure out what’s going on a little bit more.

      I hope this helps.


  • My wife and I have been separated for a year now. She has filed for a divorce and is the bread winner in the relationship. She has turned my kids against me and once I started asking for alimony she has now told my 14 year old son that he has the right to live where he wants to. This all came about because she knows how much I love my kids. I didn’t want to get a lawyer a fight in court over our kids but at this point my three older daughters have abandoned me. I am hurt enough to walk away as I have lost the people in my life I truly cherished. I don’t want to fight in court for my son to be with me as I don’t want it to get ugly but not sure how to be the best dad when my ex keeps undermining the discipline that I am trying to put into place with my kids to get them to like her and stay with her.

    • I can totally understand why you’re hurt beyond words. I wish I had some advice that would quickly and easily repair these relationships. But I don’t. I’m sorry.

      Right now, all I can say is to talk to a good divorce lawyer in your area. Everything depends on the exact facts and circumstances of your case, as well as the law in your state, and the way the judges apply that law. If you could talk with your wife and work things out for the benefit of the kids, that would be best. But that doesn’t sound like it’s going to work in your situation. So your only alternative, unfortunately, is to go through the courts.


  • I found my estranged husband (we married in the late 90s) and he’s married another woman 10 years ago after disappearing on me (bigamy). He’s super defensive and combative, making threats to me and pushing for an annulment based on me being “mentally ill” (his way of punishing me) which is laughable since he’s the one being demonstrably controlling, dishonest, and impulsive (besides the fact he doesn’t understand what “mental incapacity” at the time of the marriage means). I tried to tell him annulment won’t work, but he’s filed for it anyways this week so I’ll sit back and laugh when he falls on his face and has to refile for divorce.

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  • I filed for divorce since March 2020, and I’m still waiting because my husband want me to give him back any single thing that he spent on me since we met until I left him due to his violence.hopefully all of this will end soon because it’s not easy to move on with my personal life

  • My daughter filed for divorce in June 2020 in Texas. No property, no children, nothing contested. Still hasn’t heard of final hearing. I know COVID may has stuff on hold, but what can we do to expedite the process?

    • While CoVid definitely has court systems all over the world gummed up in a way that’s never happened before, it’s still very possible to get divorced during this pandemic. A lot depends on how much both spouses want to get divorced. Having an attorney is also more important than ever now. (Navigating the court system before CoVid was difficult. Navigating it NOW, with courts being involved in various levels of virtual operation and everything constantly changing, is 100x harder. Trying to get divorced without a lawyer during this pandemic will make your divorce harder still. I don’t recommend it.)

      That having been said, there are many things you can do to move a divorce forward during this pandemic — too many to list here. That’s why I created a program to help people get through their divorce during CoVid. The program is online, so you can access it anytime from anywhere you want (as long as you have an internet connection.)

      It’s called How to Divorce During a Global Pandemic. You can check it out HERE.


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