Just How Long Does it Take to Get Divorced?

As evidenced by this article about the dissolution of Kim Kardashian’s brief marriage to Kris Humphries, Ms. Kardashian did not think her divorce case was proceeding fast enough. Two of the more popular questions that I get asked by clients are “How much does it cost to get a divorce?” and “How long does it take to get a divorce?” The answer to each of these questions is the same, “It depends”. It depends on the actual facts and circumstances of the case and it depends on the jurisdiction where the case is filed. States vary in their practices and procedures. Individual counties can vary their procedures as well.

Some jurisdictions are more pro-active with the processing of divorce cases with the Court setting the schedule for the proceedings of the case. Some are more driven by the parties to the divorce case. If the parties file the appropriate paperwork, the case moves forward; if neither party files the paperwork, the case can languish.

Let’s use a divorce filed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for example. A divorce complaint must first be filed to initiate the divorce proceedings. The divorce complaint will set forth the grounds for divorce. Those grounds are frequently requests for divorce on the basis of mutual consent and/or separation in excess of two years. Pennsylvania law does not require the parties to be separated for more than 2 years at the time they file for divorce. Rather, once the parties have been separated for 2 years, then the remaining paperwork can be filed for the entry of a divorce decree. However, if the parties have been separated for more than 2 years at the time the complaint is filed, the appropriate affidavit can be filed at the same time as the complaint.

After the complaint has been filed, the plaintiff has 30 days to serve the other party with the divorce complaint, if the defendant lives in Pennsylvania. If the defendant lives outside Pennsylvania, there is more time to serve. If the defendant is not served within the required period of time, the plaintiff has to reinstate the divorce complaint. Once reinstated, the plaintiff has more time to serve the defendant. It’s it like re-setting the shot clock for the sports fans who read this blog.

Both parties can sign their Affidavits of Consent 90 days after the complaint has been served – Not any time earlier. Some attorneys send the document to clients or unrepresented parties before they can sign the document. Frequently, those attorneys ask the party to sign the document and return it to the attorney undated. Once the 90 days period has elapsed, the attorney would date and file the document. I question the ethics of such practice. A party need not sign an Affidavit of Consent; therefore, if the Affidavit has not been filed, the party has the right to revoke the Affidavit. If there are economic issues to resolve, it is not uncommon for parties to engage in discovery and/or settlement discussions during these 90 days. According to the article about the Kardashian/Humphries divorce, the parties are supposed to be engaging in their discovery process.

Once both parties have signed and filed their Affidavits of Consent, the parties are not magically divorced. There is additional paperwork that must be filed with the Court either to get the grounds approved, so the Court can then decide the economic issues, or for the entry of the divorce decree, if there are no economic issues or if they have were resolved during that 90 day waiting period. The procedure is the same whether one is trying to get the grounds approved or seeking the entry of a decree. An initial set of documents are prepared and then sent to the other side. That paperwork advises the other side that this same paperwork is going to be filed with the Court 20 days later. Once that paperwork is filed with the Court, the Court holds it for another 10 days. That is the party’s last time to object to the entry of either the grounds order or the divorce decree. After those 10 days have elapsed, the file is submitted to a Judge for entry of the order requested. There is way of knowing how long a case can sit on a judge’s desk. Most of the judges in Family Court in Philadelphia have over-booked dockets.

If the request was made for an Order approving grounds for divorce, then once that order has been entered, either party can file the paperwork for the appointment of a Master to address the outstanding economic issues. If the request was for the entry of a divorce decree, the case is concluded once that decree is entered.

My point in explaining this process was to point out that the vast majority of the process to obtain a divorce in Pennsylvania is driven by the filings of the parties. They have some control over how fast or how slow a case proceeds.

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