For all the women that come in telling me that they want me to move with all possible haste towards the entry of the final divorce decree, there are still others that tell me to dig in my heels and do whatever it takes to slow down their divorce.
Whatever they want me to do, they all have their reasons. Usually, for the ones who want me to take as much time as humanly possible, there’s a pretty compelling reason. Sometimes, it’s because they haven’t quite met the requirements of a 20/20/20 spouse. Other times, it’s because they’re receiving support, at least temporarily, and the final divorce decree would either end it or just put an ultimate deadline on it. Either way, it’s not particularly desirable. Sometimes it’s an entirely different reason, but it’s really all the same—for whatever reason, it’s not advantageous to move the divorce forward sooner.
Sometimes, divorces do get dragged out. Sometimes it’s purposeful; other times, it happens because the parties have a lot of trouble reaching an agreement.
How long does it usually take to get a divorce?
It’s probably safe to say that most divorces take at least a year (partially because that’s how long most people have to be separated before a final decree of divorce can be entered by the court), and it’s not uncommon for them to last a year and a half or even two. Some, especially contested divorces, can take even longer. I’ve seen divorces that take three or four years when things are really, really bad, but that’s definitely the exception and not the rule. For most people, a year seems like it’s certainly long enough!
It depends a lot on the type of divorce. Uncontested divorces are usually quicker than contested ones. (For one thing, if yours is a contested divorce, you’re going to have to contend with the court’s docket! In Virginia Beach, if you want to set a trial date, you’re usually looking at a date 7-8 months in the future!)
Now, keep in mind that I’m talking about the total time to go from beginning to end, with the end being defined as the moment when the final divorce decree is ultimately entered by the court. All of that time isn’t necessarily hands on time. In an uncontested divorce case, where you and your husband (and your attorneys, if you’re represented by counsel), are negotiating a separation agreement, it’s not uncommon to negotiate for 2-3 months before reaching an agreement—and then spend the remainder of your one year of separation just waiting for the time to be up so you can actually file. Hands on time (meaning time where the attorney is actively working on your case and it hasn’t yet settled) is different than time where you’re just waiting for your separation period to run so that you can file and get your divorce granted.
For those people wanting a super fast divorce, I usually tell them that it’s unlikely to take less than a year. If, however, you believe your husband has committed adultery, you may qualify to get a divorce sooner—of course, there are definitely some catches involved. For more information about how to get an immediate divorce, click here.
How much can I drag out my divorce?
It really depends on the type of divorce, what’s at stake, whether you’ve hired an attorney to help you, and a number of other factors. Let’s break it down by type of divorce.
In a contested divorce, time limits apply to different parts of the process. If your husband has filed for divorce, once you’ve been served with a complaint, you’ll only have 21 days to respond. There’s no room for dragging your feet or taking your time; if you don’t respond within that time frame, technically the court can move on with your divorce without further notice to you! I probably don’t need to tell you, but this is definitely not a position you want to find yourself in. Likewise, at other points in the process, there are specific time limits that apply. Even though it’s often difficult to get a trial date, you may find that things move more quickly than you’d like them to, especially if your main objective is ensuring that your divorce takes longer.
In a contested divorce, even though it often takes more than a year, the more aggressive party (or attorney) often sets the tone for the divorce. If they’re prepared to push things forward, they have some serious control over how fast it all goes. A contested divorce is like a moving train; it’s really hard to get off!
There’s a little more wiggle room when it comes to uncontested divorces because there are no time limits. You aren’t served a draft of a separation agreement, like you would be a divorce complaint in a contested divorce, so there are no court imposed time limits. You don’t have 21 days to respond; in fact, legally, there will be no consequences if you choose not to respond at all. (Though I don’t recommend this course of action. Why? Because, ultimately, if you refuse to participate in the process, you may find your spouse has gone ahead and filed for a contested divorce anyway—and then, not only would time limits be imposed, but you’ll find yourself in a less user friendly, more expensive, and more time consuming process. Not ideal.)
A separation agreement is a negotiation process. People often forget this. When they get their first draft, they hit the roof, thinking that their spouse (and, of course, his scum of the earth attorney) are going to take everything and leave them with nothing. You have to remember: it’s a negotiation. Your husband, and his attorney, are making an offer. Is it the best offer in the world? No, of course not. And if I were to prepare a first draft for you, you can bet your boots it would be dramatically in your favor over your husband. Why? Because I represent you, and because that agreement would be in your best interests.
Beyond that, if we don’t out on the high end, we’ll have nowhere to go when it comes time to start bargaining and negotiating. It’s strategic.
So, if you see a first draft that is worse than you imagined, step back. Take a deep breath. Consult with an attorney. And definitely be sure to remember that this is just the place where negotiations start. It’s not over until you put pen to paper and sign your name on the line. (And, please, don’t do that until you’ve had the agreement reviewed and had an opportunity to negotiate changes, revisions, and additions.)
Attorneys juggle lots of cases at one time, so it’s not uncommon for a fair amount of time to pass in between offers and counteroffers back and forth. In this way, in certain situations, some time can be wasted, if it’s necessary. How much time? Again, it’s really a case by case type of thing, and depends a lot on the circumstances. But it’s possible that we can stretch things so that they take a little bit longer than they might otherwise.
To find out how long it may be possible to drag out your case, you might want to talk to an attorney about your issues and what, specifically, you’re trying to avoid. Sometimes, slowing the case down really isn’t the answer anyway. There may be another solution to the problem that you’re having, and it’s definitely worth raising the issue.
Take, for example, a case where a wife wants to drag out a divorce until she reaches 20/20/20 status. She has two years to go, and she doesn’t want anything to happen until she reaches that point. It may be possible, in a case like that, to negotiate a separation agreement that includes a provision specifying that an uncontested divorce won’t be entered until a date after which the wife has achieved 20/20/20 status. That way, the separation agreement is concluded, husband and wife go their separate ways (though they aren’t divorced yet), and no additional legal expenses are incurred—but the wife’s objectives (specifically, making sure that she retains that 20/20/20 status) are still met.
Before you get too worked up about how long you’ll be able to drag out your divorce, talk to an attorney and find out whether there might not be another way to reach your goals. It’s stressful to think about having to continue to prolong something that is expensive and difficult; you may find that your objectives can be met in a different, less stressful, less expensive way.
For more information, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200. We’re happy to help you schedule a confidential appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorneys.