Like many of my clients, a key question for Jack at his first meeting with a divorce lawyer was “How long will it take for me to get divorced?”
My answer: “It depends.”
The legal time frames for establishing grounds for divorce are the most clear – generally six months or one year, depending on the jurisdiction and which ground for divorce is being asserted.
Another factor is the process choice selected by the parties. The litigation process can be much more time consuming when compared to negotiation, mediation, and the Collaborative process.
But the most complex set of factors relate to the emotional state of the parties, ranging all the way from a diagnosed mental illness to the very common instability of a party who feels the rug has been pulled out from under him or her and who, at least temporarily, is guided by fear, anger and a desire for vengeance as opposed to a more balanced problem-solving approach to the divorce.
Jack’s situation, for example, was complicated. He and his wife had two teen-aged daughters who were very attached to their mother. Maintaining a strong relationship with his daughters was a top priority for Jack. In addition, Jack was the primary wage-earner of the family, and his employment future was uncertain. But most critical, his wife was fragile – diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and having difficulty coping with every-day life, much less a separation. I advised Jack that it was going to be important to move slowly through the divorce process, giving his wife and daughters time to adjust gradually to changes in the family structure. Because he was the party initiating the divorce, he would need to slow things down to allow time for his wife to “catch up” to him emotionally. Patience, persistence and calmness would be our watch words.
Meredith’s husband was also the initiating party in their divorce, but although Meredith was hurt by the ending of the marriage, she was fairly emotionally healthy and was getting a great deal of benefit from individual therapy. The parties’ one son was grown and long gone from the family home. Because the family had a financial advisor who was trusted by both parties, it was not difficult to get a handle on the significant financial assets and to come up with a financial settlement which addressed the objectives of both parties. Thus, Meredith’s settlement agreement was negotiated and signed well before the grounds for divorce had accrued.
In summary, if you are concerned about the timing of your divorce:
- Know that it WILL get done.
- Be patient – trying to rush the process may be a hindrance rather than a help.
- Expect some course adjustments during the process. Getting divorced is not a straight, upward line, but rather a bumpy road with dips and even craters along the way.
- Be clear that some of the timing is within your control. Letting go of the small stuff, being flexible, being willing to consider several different options to address an issue – all will help to move the divorce process along in a timely way.
- Most important of all – select an experienced attorney who is skillful in resolving cases outside the court process and then listen to his or her advice.