How Long Does a Divorce Take? Essential Information Explained.

by | Oct 17, 2023 | Child Support, Custody, Division of Assets, Divorce

One of the most frequently asked questions in a divorce consultation is, “How long does a divorce take?” and the answer to that question varies based on several factors.

The type of divorce you’re filing, the amount of assets you have, whether child custody is involved, and if there are related criminal charges pending all play a major role in determining how much time your divorce process will take.


Uncontested Divorce vs Contested Divorce

The number one factor in determining the answer to “How long does a divorce take” is whether you’ll be filing for an uncontested divorce or a contested divorce.

Uncontested divorces, in the simplest terms, are ones where the parties agree on everything up front, so the only time involved is how long it takes to draft the necessary paperwork plus the statutory 30-day waiting period after filing. All in all, a true uncontested divorce can be fully resolved within 6 to 10 weeks.

If you are filing a contested divorce, then the time it takes for everything to be finalized is more complex due to aspects like child custody and child support. Some divorces start as contested, but the parties are able to reach a settlement relatively soon after filing.

These cases could end up being resolved within a matter of months. In other cases, however, parties will not be able to agree and will need a trial. These cases could take anywhere between 10 to 15 months to resolve.

This is because there are many “phases” of contested divorces, the longest and most necessary being the discovery phase. Discovery alone can take 3 to 6 months to complete depending on the amount of information needed in a case, including obtaining this information via subpoenas or depositions if the exchange of paper discovery is not enough.

Generally speaking, the complexity of your case is going to determine the amount of time it takes. On average, a contested divorce will take about 1 year to be completely resolved.


Criminal Charges

Unfortunately, some divorce filings stem from criminal actions, or criminal activity may occur while a divorce is pending. The most common criminal charge associated with a divorce is domestic violence in some form.

When there is a criminal charge pending that is substantially related to a pending divorce case, the defendant in the criminal matter has the right to request the Court to stay the divorce proceedings, and the Court almost always grants the request.

This is because the accused party has a 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, even in a civil matter like a divorce, and any information obtained during the divorce proceedings could be used against them in the criminal case.

When a divorce is stayed for a criminal matter, the divorce will remain pending with no activity until the criminal case is completely resolved. Depending on the severity of the charge(s), the stay can be in place for a few months to a year or more.

During the stay, your divorce case will be placed on the Court’s Admin Docket and the parties will be required to update the Court on the status of the criminal case every few months.


Case Management Conferences and Disposition Dockets

For residents of Mobile County, our domestic relations judges have put into place two systems to ensure that cases on their dockets move at a steady pace and do not “fall through the cracks.”

The Case Management Conference (“CMC”) is a virtual meeting set by the Court in the Pre-Trial Order. Attendance at the CMC may be waived if lawyers or unrepresented parties file a Status Report with the Court at least 24 hours prior to the CMC that describes the following: whether a good faith effort has been made to settle the case; whether discovery is completed, or an estimate of time necessary to complete discovery, if it is not; whether the case is ready for trial; the estimated time required for the final hearing/trial; identification of all unresolved issues to be tried; whether the case requires an immediate hearing and the reason(s) for the urgency; and the email addresses for all unrepresented parties (if known, applicable, or ascertainable). After the CMC, the case will either be set for trial or placed on the Court’s Disposition Docket.

The Disposition Docket is similar to the Admin Docket described above. It is also administrative in nature so that the Courts can keep up with the active cases on their docket. It is not a hearing or trial date to appear in Court.

It is simply a placeholder date for the attorneys to check in with the Court via appropriate motion regarding the present status of the case; i.e., is more time needed for discovery, are the parties attempting mediation or in settlement negotiations, or is the case ready for trial.

Cases are typically set out on Disposition Dockets for 30-90 days at a time. The Courts use the Disposition Docket to track how long a case has been pending. If a case has been pending for almost a year, then typically the Court will notify the attorneys and parties involved that the case will not be set over to the next Disposition Docket and will set the case for trial.

This is because the Courts have just as much of an interest in making sure your divorce case is moving at a steady, efficient pace toward final resolution as you do.

At Herlihy Family Law, it is our goal to guide you out of and through a negative life situation and to a new future for yourself and your children as efficiently as possible. While there isn’t a clear answer to “How long does a divorce take”, hopefully, this gives you a better idea of the factors involved.


Author: Anna Eden

Attorney Anna Eden is a native of Mobile, Alabama. Prior to joining Herlihy Family Law, Anna worked as a law clerk for Circuit Court Judges Michael Windom and Michael Sherman. It was during her time clerking for Judge Sherman that Anna discovered her passion for helping people navigate the complex and emotional issues involved in family law.

Anna aids in the representation of individuals across a variety of family law issues, including divorce and child support, juvenile law, child custody law, probate, and wills.