Attorneys are pretty notorious for not answering questions we’re asked. In fact, in law school, I remember a contracts professor joking that the answer to all legal questions is “it depends.”
You’ll have to forgive me, because that answer has been pretty deeply ingrained in me (and, as far as I can tell, in all the other lawyers I’ve ever met). It’s not so much that we don’t like to give answers (in fact, most of us LOVE to give answers); it’s just that it’s also very deeply ingrained in us that, if we’re wrong, there are consequences. Serious consequences. Like, we could get sued. Or lose our law license. Or look silly. Depending on what it is that we’re wrong about, the consequences can be proportionately small or large.
We hate being wrong more than we like answering questions. Besides that, we normally associate being wrong with a client getting upset. So, when you say, “how long does it take to get divorced?”, we get a little nervous. You want an answer, and we’d like to give one. But what if we’re wrong? Are you going to be mad? Are you going to say, “But you told me…”?
And, besides that, it DOES depend. It depends on a lot of things, as a matter of fact. It depends on whether your divorce is litigated or negotiated. It depends on whether you have a lot of assets to divide. It depends on whether you’re asking for spousal support (and your husband is willing—or not willing—to pay it). In fact, a LOT depends on how difficult both you and your husband are. Are there children involved? Because that affects the length of your divorce, too.
Obviously, the more complicated (in terms of assets and in the level of contentiousness) your divorce, the longer it takes.
The law affects the amount of time your divorce will take, too. As you’re probably already aware, the statute has specific periods of time that are required to have passed (most of the time) to get a divorce. For an uncontested, no fault divorce, you have to be separated for a year (or six months if you meet two criteria: you don’t have minor children AND you already have a signed separation agreement) to even file for divorce. In a fault based divorce where anything other than adultery is used as the grounds, you’re also going to have to be separated for the full year before a judge can grant your divorce (or, on the other hand, before you can use your separation agreement to obtain an uncontested, no fault divorce).
If you file using adultery as your grounds, you do qualify for an immediate divorce. But, hold your horses (as my mother would say), because it’s not that easy. Most attorneys, even though you can technically get an immediate divorce, wouldn’t even start to try to move forward with the divorce part of the action until a year has passed. Why? Well, what happens if you can’t prove adultery? The judge can’t grant your divorce, and you have to start back over at square one. If you just wait until the year has lapsed, you can ask for divorce using adultery as your grounds and, if the judge isn’t convinced, you can ask for a no fault divorce instead. (Which is a better use of your money, anyway, and also protects the attorney from being sued.)
All that to explain why it does, in fact, depend on the circumstances. Even though “it depends” may not be a sufficient answer in and of itself (and it may be incredibly frustrating for you to keep hearing), there’s a reason why attorneys tend to gravitate towards that answer. It’s because it’s true! It is complicated and entirely dependent on circumstances which may be unique to your case, so it does depend!
But that doesn’t answer your question, does it?
How long does a divorce in Virginia typically take?
If I were to give a ball park answer, I would say that a divorce takes about a year and a half because, statistically, that’s approximately how long our average case lasts.
Some divorces can be completed more quickly. In fact, it’s not unusual for a separation agreement to be drafted and done in a month or two. Of course, in an uncontested, no fault divorce, you’ll still have to wait for your one year of separation to be up before you can actually file and get divorced, but, once the separation agreement is signed, all the hard work is really done. If, when you negotiate your separation agreement, you’ve already been separated for a period of time, you’ll be able to finalize even more quickly than if you negotiate your separation agreement immediately after separating.
Contested divorces, on the other hand, last much longer, on average, than uncontested cases. Usually, that’s because there are a lot more procedural steps to accomplish than in uncontested cases and, furthermore, things are more hotly contested. When the parties don’t agree, things take longer. Not only that, but the court has put procedural roadblocks into place to encourage parties to settle before trial; when they don’t settle, they still have to go through all those roadblocks, and it takes longer to actually get a trial date. Additionally, most courts have super backed up dockets, so it’s hard to even have a trial date. (In Virginia Beach, most of the time if you want a trial date, you’re looking at 6-7 months out!)
Do I have any control over how long my divorce takes?
Of course you do! It’s not entirely up to you, but there are definitely factors that you can control. To the extent that it’s possible, I would certainly advise you to try to stay out of court and negotiate a settlement. Whether you hire an attorney, use a mediator, or do it yourself, you can negotiate an agreement that divides all your assets and liabilities.
There’s really very little advantage to going to court, if any, anyway. You’ll have more control over how your things are divided (and which part of them you receive), plus your divorce will take less time, cost less money, and cause less damage. Win-win? I think so.
So, all of that to say, that it really depends. Divorces can take a relatively short time, or a very long time, depending on the issues presented. The longest divorce case I’ve ever worked on took 11 years to finalize. (I wasn’t there for all of it, obviously—I was in high school when it started!)
There’s no reason your divorce has to take ages, but it’s also not unrealistic to expect that it may very well take a year to a year and a half to finalize.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.