How Long Does a Divorce Take?

Hour glass on calendar - how long does a divorce take concept

When you are ready to file for divorce, often one of your most pressing questions is “how long does a divorce take?” You need some guidance around when you and your spouse should separate, and when the Judgment of Divorce will be entered. The good news is that you can control the length of your divorce process, to some extent, by committing to cooperate with the process, and avoiding unnecessary conflict with your spouse along the way. More arguing and conflict tends to equal a longer divorce process and higher divorce costs.

How Long Does a Divorce Take?

Unfortunately, the answer to the question, “how long does a divorce take?” is that it depends. There are many factors that can affect how long it will take you from declaring you want a divorce until the final order is entered. Generally, the more issues in the case, the longer the case will take. Some issues include:

  • Whether you have children and how old are they
  • If you and your spouse can agree on issues like custody and parenting time
  • Whether you have much property, how complicated are your assets, and whether you can agree on the division of assets and debts
  • If you own real estate, will it be sold, or will one spouse keep the house and if so, how much will the other spouse be owed for it, if anything?
  • Whether there are legal issues such as outstanding court cases involving one or both spouses, or financial issues such as back taxes to be resolved
  • If you or your spouse refuses to cooperate willingly with the divorce process because a divorce is not wanted

Because of these factors, a Michigan divorce can take anywhere from a couple months to more than a year and in rare cases, more than two years (e.g., if appeals are involved). If either spouse chooses to make the process difficult, your divorce may drag on with extensive motions and hearings. That is why, if a fast divorce is your priority, you need to do your best to treat your soon-to-be-ex-spouse with respect and avoid conflict where you can. This is not to say you should concede all the issues your spouse disagrees with, particularly when your safety and/or the safety of the children are involved. But ask yourself questions like:

If the proposed resolution doesn’t work out, can I change it later? For example, legal custody and parenting time can be changed if there is a significant change of circumstances, which is a legal term of art. Talk to you lawyer about this based on the facts of your case. Similarly, child support and spousal support might be modifiable depending on the terms of your agreement and what happens down the road. However, property settlements cannot be later changed.

Is this issue going to matter in a year? In five years? In ten years? Try to put things in perspective.

Why is this issue so important to me? Am I trying to prove a point to my spouse? Or does this issue transcend my emotions?

Is what I think about the proposed resolution really true? Am I being honest with myself?

Talking with your therapist about your feelings around negotiations will help you be more logical and reasoned, and less reactionary and emotional. This is likely to reduce how long it takes you to divorce, and the cost of your divorce.

How Fast Can You Get a Divorce in Michigan?

Michigan law establishes certain waiting periods that must be met before you can complete your divorce action. Unlike other states, there is no minimum separation period (some states require 6 months or a year living apart). Instead, in Michigan, the clock starts the day the Complaint for Divorce is filed. The Michigan statutory waiting periods are:

  • 60 days for a divorce without children
  • 6 months for a divorce with children

The law says that the 6-month waiting period can be shortened “in cases of unusual hardship or such compelling necessity as shall appeal to the conscience of the court.” Some judges are willing to waive the 180 day waiting period simply in the interest of resolving the dispute and bringing finality to the children caught in the middle. However, others will require you and your divorce attorney to make a specific request supported by a compelling reason to enter your judgment of divorce sooner.

However, even when the 6-month waiting period is accelerated, the 60-day requirement is absolute. That means even if you file a proposed Judgment of Divorce along with your complaint – which you are required to do in an uncontested divorce – you will still need to wait 60 days before your judgment is signed and your marriage is dissolved.

How Long Do Uncontested and Collaborative Divorces Take?

If you and your spouse choose to reduce conflict, you can drastically shorten the time your case is in court. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are shortening the court portion of the divorce process. In the uncontested divorce process the parties petition the court together to enter a judgment of divorce that they have negotiated ahead of time. In the collaborative divorce process, the parties hire attorneys and may also meet with a facilitator, as well as other professionals to work through their issues and reach a settlement that meets all their family’s needs. In both cases, coming to a settlement agreement can take time because it may be necessary to schedule multiple mediation or collaborative law sessions to work through the parties’ priorities and negotiate a resolution. While alternative divorce processes can be shorter than traditional litigation, they also shift much of the time spent earlier in the process – to before the Complaint or Joint Petition for Divorce is filed. To be clear, litigation also takes time: lawyers have to work around the Court’s and each other’s availability; time is required to allow for answers to motions to be filed; courts often kick the issue to the Friend of the Court or order parties to try mediation first before making the Court decide.

How Long Can a High-Conflict Divorce Take?

The Michigan Supreme Court encourages judges to move divorce cases through the court system relatively quickly. The State Court Administrator’s Office (SCAO) has set administrative guidelines to require:

  • 85% of divorces without children to be resolved in 182 days (6 months) and 98% within 364 days (1 year).
  • 85% of divorces with children to be resolved in 301 days (10 months) and 95% within 364 days (1 year).

This means that the older your case is, the more pressure you will likely receive from the judge to either settle or bring the matter to trial. That is why attorneys often suggest settling the case before you file for divorce. Still, in rare cases, if the parties are making progress toward settlement, or if additional discovery is necessary for things like property appraisals, psychological evaluations, or custody and parenting time recommendations, even a year may not be long enough to conclude the case.

What You Can Do to Affect How Long Your Divorce Takes

It should be clear by now that you and your spouses’ willingness to cooperate with your attorneys and each other can drastically affect how long your divorce takes. You can do a lot to shorten the divorce process by preparing your emotional and financial affairs before the divorce is filed. However, all too often, one or both parties to a divorce decide they want to use the litigation process to punish one another for getting a divorce. When that happens, they may resist their attorney’s efforts to respond to discovery requests, negotiate in good faith, and try to promptly resolve the dispute. The only thing you accomplish with this is driving up the time and expense of the divorce for both parties.

The Court can enter a Judgment of Divorce based on only one party’s desire to end the marriage. And remember, the Court has been instructed to get cases resolved in a matter of months. By obstructing the process, you can frustrate the Court and expose yourself to sanctions such as attorney fee awards, or even have a default judgment entered against you.

In other cases you or your spouse may delay the case simply because one of you isn’t ready for the relationship to end. If reconciliation is possible, then couples’ counseling is worth pursuing. We sometimes hear from clients who initiated a divorce, after their divorce is over, that the problems they thought the divorce would solve just changed into different problems. While most clients seem to acknowledge they are psychologically and sometimes physically better off being divorced, some of them do wish they would have tried marriage counseling in good faith. Moving too fast in a divorce can be as detrimental as moving too slowly. And if reconciliation isn’t an option, dragging your feet can drive up costs and anger judges. If you are the party clinging to the relationship, consider working with a therapist in addition to your attorney, because refusing to cooperate will not likely repair a marriage.

At NSSS&B, we want to help you get a divorce as promptly as possible. Our Ann Arbor family law attorneys, paralegals, and support staff work together to pursue settlement and resolve your case quickly while protecting your family and your interests. Click here to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.