A divorce can be a long and expensive process that leaves both sides desperate to get things over with. But just how long that process drags out varies state by state—and couple by couple. Fortunately, all 50 states now share some form of a “no-fault” divorce law, which helps things move faster than 20 or 30 years ago. “Back then, a divorcing spouse often needed to spend time proving ‘fault’ for the divorce, including hiring private investigators to follow a cheating spouse,” says Bari Z. Weinberger, certified matrimonial law attorney and founder of Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group of New Jersey. “Being able to file on the no-fault grounds of irreconcilable differences can be a time saver.” But beyond no-fault, there’s a lot of variation across state lines. Find out the signs your marriage is headed for divorce.
The slow divorce states
To discourage rash decisions to untie the knot, many states put speed bumps in place, like required waiting periods. “California is notoriously slow because it mandates a six-month ‘cooling-off’ period to ensure both parties are truly committed to dissolving their marriage,” Weinberger explains. “This is often why we see Hollywood celeb couples announce their divorce on one date, and then six months later there is a follow-up announcement their divorce was finalized.”
Another snail state is Vermont, which makes couples live separately for six months. In addition, “a year’s residency is required before the divorce will be granted and then there’s a three-month ‘decree nisi’ period to go through before the judge’s approval is absolute,” divorce attorney Bruce Provda told ABC News.
Elsewhere in the country, Rhode Island mandates a five-month “cooling off” period, and South Carolina requires a one-year separation before filing for divorce, as well as three months of residency when both parties live in the state, according to the Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group. Meanwhile in Arkansas, “there is a mandatory 18-month period of separation, and any co-habitation during that period will reset the clock,” Provda says.
What makes slow states slow?
In addition to waiting periods, separations, and residency requirements, co-parenting classes are required in some states (from New Hampshire to Washington), while other states suffer from inefficient or backlogged court systems (California has lots of company here). What’s more, some couples aren’t aware of or don’t have access to time-saving options like an out-of-court settlement. “When you have all of these factors present, divorce more easily gets bogged down,” Weinberger says.
But it’s important to remember there’s a logic behind mandates like waiting periods. “Often in divorce, something has erupted in the relationship, and the state hopes to protect the family,” says Mary G. Kirkpatrick, an attorney with Kirkpatrick & Goldsborough, a Vermont-based firm. “Waiting periods cool things down and—in cases with children—give people a real sense of what it’s like to parent from different households.” When it comes to kids, it’s important to plan the smartest ways to talk about divorce.
The fast divorce states
Certain states offer a smoother road to splitsville, including New Jersey—where Weinberger practices—which has no mandated “cooling off” period. “We have a ‘benchmark’ of one year from filing to decree in the ‘typical divorce’ case that includes assets and children,” she says. For simpler cases in which spouses reach an agreement, the time to divorce could be weeks; more complex cases could extend beyond a year. “But there is no mandated—’this is how long it will take you to divorce’—law in New Jersey,” Weinberger says.
Other swift states include New Hampshire (which has no minimum processing time), Nevada (which only requires six weeks of residency and minimum processing of 42 days), and Alaska (which has a 30-day minimum processing time for residents), according to the Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group.
What else makes fast states fast?
“The big one is the ability to file for a no-fault divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences without a mandatory separation,” Weinberger says. “For example, in New Jersey, a couple can file for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences and still live together throughout the duration of their divorce.”
Another timesaver is the ability to resolve as many issues as possible out of court. “In New Jersey, divorcing spouses attend court-mandated mediation to work through asset division and other issues,” says Weinberger. “They are often able to resolve all or most in a fraction of the time it takes to go before a judge.” What are some issues that lead to divorce? You won’t believe these 12 crazy-but-true cases.
What mistakes do couples make that slow things down?
When it comes to the pace of divorce proceedings, couples themselves have a huge impact on how fast or slow their divorce will go. What trips most people up? “The top thing divorce attorneys see are spouses who dig in and fight over everything,” says Weinberger. “When you spend time arguing over who gets the microwave, it’s time to step back and reassess. Keep your emotions out of the process.”
In addition, going into a divorce with a mindset of “winning” may not be the most productive approach—especially with kids. “There are certain divorce battles that are rarely ‘won’ by either side. If you are both good parents, the court will most likely try to get custody to as close to fifty-fifty as possible because that’s in the best interest of your child,” Weinberger explains. “So spending all your time fighting for full custody may not be a good use of resources.” Discover eight more things divorcing couples wish they would have realized earlier.
What smart moves can couples make to speed things up?
If you ask divorce attorneys for tips on speeding up proceedings, their answers don’t have to do with gaming the system. “Whenever anyone asks me, ‘How long will it take to divorce’ my favorite answer is, ‘As long as the least reasonable person in the room wants it to take,’” says Weinberger. “It’s always a good idea to talk to a divorce attorney about how to prioritize what you want and need in your settlement. You want to enter the process with realistic expectations.”
Kirkpatrick says another key factor can streamline the process. “Transparency is very important,” she advises. “During the period of discovery, when each side is gathering information about the other side, be as forthcoming as possible.” Withholding information could result in further expenses and delays.
Mediate to save time
“If there is any way you can sit down with your spouse and a neutral third-party mediator to decide the issues of your divorce, it’s worth exploring this process,” Weinberger urges. “Mediation takes less time to reach a settlement than going to court, is less costly than typical litigation, and is generally less stressful too.” From prenups to texting habits, consider these 15 additional tips from divorce lawyers.