Article by Daniel A. Levy, Esq.
UPDATED MAY 17, 2018
Probably one of the most common questions that I am asked during an initial meeting with a potential divorce client is, “how long will it take until I am divorced?” In fact, I can say with near certainty that 100% of my new divorce clients ask me this. And I really wish that I could give them a specific and accurate answer, but unfortunately I cannot. And this is because there are just so many factors that go into the scheduling and timing of divorce cases. However, I can and do go through those factors with all of my new clients. Below is essentially what I tell them.
The amount of time that it takes to get divorced in New Jersey is completely dependent upon 3 things: How complicated is the case? How much time is going to be spent fighting over relatively minor things? How busy is the judge? That is basically the recipe for how long it will take from initial client consultation to the day when we have a judgment of divorce in hand.
For very simple divorces, it is easy to predict a reasonable time frame. If there are no children, no property to divide, nothing to fight over, and we know where both spouses live, I can usually tell clients a time frame with good accuracy. In those cases, in the counties that I practice in, no fault (a.k.a. uncontested) divorces typically take about 90 days. And this isn’t because the divorce is complicated. The paperwork for those cases is not complicated at all. However, the papers need to be signed and sent to court, they need to be delivered to the other spouse and proof of that delivery needs to go to the court, and then the court needs to schedule a hearing. The court typically schedules the hearing for a date that is about a month after the request for the hearing is received (this is actually the biggest delay in the process). So while it would be great if both spouses could just show up to court, fill out some papers, and get divorced in an afternoon, it just doesn’t work that way.
For any other divorce case, we have to look at the other factors. Part of a divorce is exchanging certain financial information and documents. If the case is simple, this doesn’t take much time. But complexities make this process take while, for example, if there are multiple sources of income, multiple debts, businesses that are owned by the couple, multiple properties (vacation home, timeshare, investment properties, etc.), extraordinary expenses, etc., etc… the list goes on. The more complicated your situation is, the more time this will take. It is impossible to resolve the case without both sides exchanging the required documents so that everyone gets the full picture of the finances of the family and the marital lifestyle.
The next big factor is the amount that the couple will fight over the various issues. Sometimes the big issues are easy to agree upon, sometimes they are not. Sometimes, for example, the parents will never agree about who gets custody of the children and the judge will have to conduct a trial on the matter. But in my experience, it’s the little things that delay cases. Spouses may literally pay attorneys to argue about who gets the sofa, or small pieces of jewelry, etc. And I’ve also seen spouses pay attorneys to fight over things just because they want to hurt the other person. But regardless, the more things the spouses fight about, the longer the process takes.
The court will assist the couple with this, though. If the attorneys cannot resolve the case on their own, the court will usually send the case to a settlement panel. If that doesn’t work, the case will get referred to mediation. If that doesn’t work, the judge will usually send the case to mediation again. And if it still doesn’t resolve then the case will get scheduled for a trial.
Lastly, the court’s calendar really does make a big impact on the scheduling. Some judges have a massive calendar – especially in counties where there aren’t many judges – and whenever they schedule the next appearance it will be months later. And in other cases, there aren’t that many cases on the court’s calendar and the case can move quicker. But the important thing to know is that if there is a trial, it will take a while before the court does get to try your case.