If you’re searching for an answer to the question “How long does a divorce take?” or “How long does it take to get a divorce in Virginia?”, chances are pretty good that you want it to be over with as soon as possible. Am I right?
I get this question all the time. It’s certainly a reasonable question, but it’s also kind of a difficult question to answer. Divorces can vary pretty dramatically from one case to the next, depending on the type and complexity of the issues involved, and, not only that, but also the inclination of the people involved.
For all the women who want a speedy resolution and a divorce entered as quickly as possible, there are plenty of others who don’t really want anything to happen all that quickly. So, when you’re asking about how long it “usually” takes or what can “normally” happen, the truth is that there are about a million possibilities.
Wait. Why would you want your divorce to take longer?
A good question – and there are a LOT of possible answers! Lots of people are in no hurry to get their divorces, even after they know full well that their marriages are over. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who wants negotiation or litigation to drag out for any longer than necessary, but I’ve met plenty of people who, for one reason or another, are content to stay separated (rather than formally divorce) or who hire me and ask me to stall the proceedings.
But why would you do that? Well, a lot of reasons, and it usually comes down to money. If you’re sharing money in a joint account and you’d prefer that not stop, assuming that things are mostly amicable between the two of you and it works out just fine, you may prefer that to finalizing and permanently dividing things. If you have permanently divided things but you want to stay on his health insurance, for example, you may just agree to stay separated. (A health insurance company won’t let you stay on his insurance once you’re divorced, so sometimes staying married is the only option.) If he doesn’t have any immediate prospects, he may not even care whether you stay married, so long as the terms are more or less settled between you. Sometimes, too, I see a military spouse who is very near to 20-20-20 status with the military, which would allow her to retain her TriCare insurance permanently, as well as keep access to the commissary and exchange. Sometimes, we even include terms in the separation agreement that no one will finalize a divorce before a certain date so that she can reap these kinds of benefits, and husbands often agree, because it doesn’t cost them anything.
It sometimes happens, too, that one party just doesn’t want the divorce. I sometimes get a religious or moral objection, but it ranges from one person to another. If a husband has only drafted a separation agreement, it’s easy to stall, or to make demands that stall negotiations. Of course, it’s risky – because the only other alternative is to file for divorce, which amps up the tensions, and creates the possibility of a much more difficult and expensive divorce. Depending on the steps your husband has taken, you could choose not to be responsive – though, like I said, that does come with its own set of inherent risks. If you receive a draft separation agreement (or if you receive any documents and you’re not sure what they are), it’s a good idea to talk to an attorney about options and consequences in the event that you don’t respond. Keep in mind that if you’ve been served with a divorce complaint, you have only 21 days to respond or the case can move forward without further notice to you – so it definitely is important to know WHAT you’ve received. A separation agreement has no official timeline.
How long does it take in a normal divorce case?
Okay, so let’s assume you’re not one to stall, and you don’t want to live separate indefinitely. You want a divorce, and you want to know how long it’ll take.
Well, it still depends. There are a lot of factors, but probably the most common and easiest to understand is the type of divorce involved.
Uncontested, No Fault Divorce
In an uncontested, no fault divorce, you and your husband negotiate a separation agreement. A separation agreement is a legal contract that divides the assets and liabilities of the marriage between the two of you. “Uncontested” just means that you were able to reach an agreement (though, of course, that does not mean that it was easy or automatic).
The other bit of this – the “no fault” piece – has a direct bearing on how long your divorce takes. In Virginia, as in pretty much everywhere, you have to have grounds to get divorced. No fault grounds are based on a period of separation. In Virginia, you have to be separated for one year to get a divorce on no fault grounds. There’s only one exception: if (1) you do not have minor children, and (2) you already have a signed separation agreement, you can get divorced after six months.
Probably most people resolve uncontested divorces at around a year. A year is usually a good amount of time to negotiate a reasonable separation agreement, and then it takes a couple months to finalize, depending on the court’s docket. You have to have grounds to FILE for divorce, though, so you can’t finalize on the day that you were separated for a year (or six months). There are a couple more parts of the process, so it’ll usually take 6-8 weeks beyond that to get the divorce decree entered and everything done.
It can take longer, of course – especially if you separate for awhile before you try to negotiate your separation agreement. Plenty of people come in after having been separated for several years already, so obviously they’re well past that year. In that case, you can negotiate and finalize as quickly as you’re able to reach an agreement.
Contested, Fault or No Fault Based Divorce
If you aren’t able to reach an agreement, your divorce will be contested. A contested divorce means that, ultimately, the judge decides how everything will be divided.
A contested divorce can be either fault or no fault based (it makes sense, if you think about it; just because you can’t reach an agreement about how to divide everything doesn’t mean that you have fault based grounds or, even if you do, that you’re planning on moving your case forward using those grounds).
If you’re in court, though, it’s almost certainly going to take longer. These divorces range dramatically, too. It may seem like an edge, because you can usually file sooner if you file on fault (since your fault based grounds exist, you can file before one year – or six months – is up), but there are so many other procedural requirements that it often ends up taking longer than waiting the year while you negotiate your agreement. (If you file on no fault, you’ll have to wait the year and, if you don’t have an agreement in place, you’ll have to schedule a trial, too!)
Just because you file on fault, though, or because you initially start the process on a litigated track, doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Plenty of people start out contested, but then switch over to uncontested later. That’s an option too.
You’re probably still looking at an average minimum of a year, but I’ve seen plenty of these cases (especially where custody or support is an issue) take years. So, yeah, needless to say – it depends!
Probably the best thing to do is to start talking to an attorney. If resolving things quickly is one of your main goals, she can help put you on a path to accomplish that goal. Of course, you and your attorney are only two pieces of the puzzle; keep in mind that your ultimate timeline will be impacted by your husband and the attorney he hires.
For more information, or to schedule a one on one appointment with a licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorney, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.