By Randi Burggraff
Why does divorce take so long? Of course, as with most answers from an attorney, it depends. There are a few reasons why a divorce can feel like it drags on, but it is important to understand that in many situations, it does not have to.
A divorce can be resolved relatively quickly, but it greatly depends on the mindset of the parties. If the parties do not have a mindset focused on resolution, it can be hard to reach an agreement and resolve the outstanding issues. These problems can be compounded when there are also procedural delays, such as issues with disclosure and/or discovery or getting a hearing scheduled with a busy court system calendar. All these factors can come into play when calculating how long your divorce proceedings will take.
Divorce does not have to take a long time. In Arizona, where I am licensed and practice, a divorce case can be completed in as little as 60 days. Typically, this occurs during an uncontested divorce where the parties can reach an agreement or already have an agreement that just needs to be put into writing. In Arizona, the 60-day requirement is a product of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure and out of our control. We cannot submit a Consent Decree to the court until 60 days after the Petition for Dissolution or Petition for Legal Separation is served on the Respondent (opposing party). This is often referred to as a “cooling off” or “waiting period” for the parties.
But this waiting period does not mean that there is no work to be done. During this period, the parties can work on the divorce settlement or fine-tune the language of their settlement agreement. This will allow the parties to submit their Consent Decree (or other agreements) to the court on that 60th day.
For clients in this situation, our firm drafts the Consent Decree, Property Settlement Agreement, and Parenting Plan, if applicable. Once drafted, our firm provides the documents to the client for their review, approval, and ultimately the parties’ signatures.
As soon as the time-frame passes, we submit the documents to the court for approval. But this really only works during uncontested divorce, when parties are able to reach an agreement quickly. If parties are not able to reach an agreement quickly, it can prolong the amount of time it takes to obtain the divorce.
When parties are unable to reach an agreement, it can prolong the time it takes to obtain a divorce. This is completely understandable. Divorce is a highly emotional and traumatic time in most people’s lives, and sometimes may not be amicable. It can take time for the parties to get into a mental space that is more conducive to reaching an agreement.
This is one reason why our law firm recommends our clients seek help from a counselor to assist them through the divorce process. The mentality of needing to fight or win is counterproductive when it comes to resolving a divorce quickly. Rather than looking to fight, consider looking at the divorce as, “how can I move on from this chapter of my life?”
Sometimes it is not our client who needs help getting into the settlement mindset, but rather the opposing party, and that can pose the problem. While we do have some tactics and strategies that help in those situations, our options are limited.
Sometimes people just need time and perhaps the perspective of a third party who is not their attorney. A mediator can help here. Typically in mediation, the parties attend with their attorneys, and the mediator goes back and forth between the parties to assist in settling the issues. This is a great option and can save the parties a lot of money and stress associated with litigation.
Mediation is not typically scheduled immediately. Usually, it’s scheduled after the discovery and disclosure portion is completed. This gives the parties time to accept their new reality and obtain the divorce papers and documents necessary for resolution. Mediation also resolves the divorce case quicker than actually going to trial.
Disclosure and discovery is the process of exchanging and obtaining the information necessary to resolve the divorce case. Specifically, it allows both parties the ability to see what assets, debts, and community property exist and should be a part of the settlement discussion. It is an important step, regardless of whether you intend to reach an agreement or go to trial.
Discussing financial information and property division are a few of the conversations to be had. After all, how can you make a decision about whether the settlement offer is fair unless you know all of the information?
But occasionally, this process is delayed, either intentionally or unintentionally. Sometimes, it is difficult to get parties to comply with the disclosure and/or discovery requirements. We run into this problem most often when the other party is not represented by a divorce attorney. The disclosure and discovery requirements can seem very personal, and people can feel like they should not have to provide the information. When there is not an attorney to explain the requirements to their client, it can make our job a little more difficult. Of course, we have tools to resolve these issues with opposing parties, such as formal requests and seeking the assistance of the court, but these options can prolong the divorce process.
Other times, the delay is unintentional. Subpoenaing records from other businesses or waiting on experts to prepare reports can take time. For example, if you hired a forensic accountant to perform a tracing exercise for your case. First, you have to obtain all the records for the accountant to review. When records are voluminous, this can take weeks. Then, the accountant has to review the records and draft their report. This whole process can add months to the divorce proceedings. But, if you need the information to prove your case or ensure a proper division of assets and/or debts, then it is a necessary step.
Another hurdle to a quick divorce is the court’s calendar. Courts have very large caseloads, and court dates can be hard to schedule. While they do their best to get everyone in quickly, there are simply just limited resources and time.
This is an even bigger problem if you have not been able to resolve at least some of your issues before going to trial. For example, if you and the opposing party have not been able to reach any agreements and you need to litigate all the issues before a judge, you may need several hours for a hearing. The more time you request for a trial, the longer it may take to find that time on the court’s calendar, pushing your court date several months out.
But, if you and the opposing party are able to resolve a majority of the issues, you may need less trial time, resulting in a sooner court date. Courts can also get backlogged. For example, when a catastrophe, like COVID-19, strikes, it also impacts the courts, and they must restrict their operations.
As you can see, there are several reasons why a divorce can take a long time. Some of them are, for the most part, out of your control. But, some things are in your control, like preparing your mindset to resolve the case as quickly as possible. A settlement does not have to be something you love, but rather something you can live with.
You cannot control how your spouse will act, and you cannot control the court’s calendar, but you can control your mindset regarding the resolution of your case and your willingness to work diligently with your divorce attorney. Working with a law office that’s experienced in family law cases can provide you with the legal advice you need. A divorce lawyer can help you gather the necessary documents and develop the necessary mindset to reach a settlement.
Since earning her law degree, Randi has dedicated her career to helping parents secure their rights, and the rights of their children—even in the most volatile situations. Her background in both Psychology as well as in Family and Children Services has given her unique insight into the inner-workings of family law, preparing her to take on high conflict child custody issues, including cases that involve domestic violence and substance abuse. As a family law and divorce lawyer in Scottsdale, Arizona, Randi has also worked on cases involving high conflict dissolutions, relocation, grandparents’ rights, child custody, third-party rights, property and asset division, and more. She has represented victims of domestic violence as well as parents looking to protect their children from spouses or parents with substance abuse problems. Her passion for helping families has driven her to become an exemplary Arizona divorce attorney, serving as an advocate for her clients in particularly high conflict situations.