As with most questions in the legal realm, the answer to this seemingly simple question is “It depends.” A simple, no-fault divorce with both parties consenting and promptly filing all the necessary paperwork can be done in about 120 days from filing the divorce complaint to the date of the divorce decree. On the other end of the spectrum, some divorce cases can drag out for 4, 5 or even 10 years. The timeframe for most divorces falls between those two extremes. It is not unusual for divorce cases to last at least two years, since that is the minimum period of separation under Pennsylvania law for a no-fault divorce where one party does not consent to the divorce. In other words, if you want a divorce but your spouse won’t agree, you must be separated for two years before you can file the required paperwork for the court to hear your divorce case.

In many cases, it is not the divorce itself that takes a significant amount of time. Resolving the financial issues, including division of property and alimony, generally takes the most time.

Before making any decisions about how to divide their assets or any support provisions, both parties should make sure they have a clear understanding of the financial picture. You can’t make an informed decision about how your assets should be divided unless you have identified and valued those assets. You can’t make an informed decision about whether one spouse should be helping to support the other spouse financially, let alone how much and for how long, unless you know the sources and amounts of your individual incomes and your individual expenses. The process of gathering and analyzing all of that information can take some time. How much time depends on how you do it and who’s involved. Gathering information regarding finances can be done cooperatively and voluntarily, which minimizes the personal and financial cost for both parties, or it can be done through formal discovery with written requests for information, subpoenas, depositions and other time-consuming, expensive and frustrating means. Generally, more cooperation means a quicker divorce process.

After you have the information necessary to make decisions, you can actually start working on a resolution of those financial issues. Once again, the time required for this process depends on how you go about it. Spouses actively and cooperatively engaged in problem-solving through direct negotiation, mediation or the collaborative process will generally resolve these financial questions quicker and more efficiently than they would through the court system. Another factor to consider is how complicated the financial puzzle is. It’s generally much quicker to resolve the financial issues involved in a short marriage where both spouses are gainfully employed and have no children compared to a long-term marriage with varied assets, a significant difference in the earnings and one or more children involved.

The common thread in determining how long a divorce will take is how both spouses approach the process. If both spouses recognize that it’s in their individual best interest and the best interest of their family to handle the divorce process in a reasonable, rational way (even if he or she doesn’t really want the divorce to happen), the amount of time it will take is minimized. If one or both spouses are determined to make the divorce process as difficult as possible, it will take more time, money and energy. It’s all about the attitude.

If you live or work in central Pennsylvania, including Harrisburg, Hershey, Carlisle, York and surrounding areas, and would like to discuss divorce, property distribution, alimony or any other family law or estate planning issue, please contact me.