A question commonly asked is:
“How long does a divorce typically take?”
This is a difficult question because every case is different. The short answer is that it depends. A divorce in Pennsylvania can last a few months, or the divorce can drag on for a few years. The quickest that a divorce can go in a best-case scenario is about 90 days in Pennsylvania plus a few weeks to process the paperwork at the back end of the case. That is certainly what we all hope for, but we also prepare for if things don’t go perfectly. It can take over a year in some cases. If the other party decides that they don’t want to be divorced, or that they want to make things difficult, they can sit on it for up to a year before we can start to force the case down the road toward the divorce.
The duration of the divorce is mostly determined by two very important factors:
- The ability of the spouses to resolve matters amicably
- The number of divorce – related matters such as child custody, property division, alimony and spousal support, and child support.
No children, no assets:
The quickest divorce cases are those in which both parties will agree to the divorce and when there are no minor children or marital assets to divide up. In Pennsylvania, Section 3301(c) of the PA Divorce Code allows for a mutual consent divorce after 90 days following the filing and service of the divorce complaint. After 90 days pass, both spouses file Affidavits of Consent with the Court and the Court will honor their wishes, then grant a Divorce Decree soon thereafter.
No minor children, some assets:
The divorce process may take a bit longer if both spouses consent to the divorce, but they have some marital assets. The Court will not grant the divorce decree unless and until the marital assets are equitably divided. Spouses are encouraged to reach an amicable agreement to the division of marital assets. If the spouses cannot reach an agreement on a division of marital assets, the case is often referred to a court-appointed arbitrator who will make a “recommendation” for the division of assets. If the parties do not accept the recommendation, the case will be passed on to a judge and a hearing will be needed, ultimately prolonging the process. In these situations, cases can often take between one to two years.
Minor children, some assets:
When children are involved, this adds another complex layer to the divorce process. When the parties cannot agree on child custody issues, many Pennsylvania counties set a process for the case to be held before a hearing officer. The hearing officer will serve as a mediator. The role of the officer is to determine whether everyone can agree to a custody order without a trial before a Judge. If the hearing officer cannot get the parties to agree, then the case is sent to a Judge and a custody trial may be necessary. It is not uncommon for the process to take anywhere from 3-5 years.
If a spouse does not consent to the divorce, then the PA Divorce Code requires the other spouse to allege and prove that the parties have been continuously separated for at least one year. At the end of that period, the plaintiff-spouse will request from the court that divorce grounds are established. The other spouse may object to this request and the case will continue to a hearing, if necessary. The court will also still need to address the issues of property division, alimony, child custody, and any other matters. If one spouse does not consent to the divorce, then it is unlikely he/she will agree to an amicable resolution of these other matters. Contested divorce cases that involve minor children and marital property are cases that often take many years.