How long does divorce take?
How long does a divorce typically take in Texas? Each couple’s reasons for divorce are unique; some can be complex and tumultuous situations, while others may be resolved quite cordially without much dispute. Nonetheless, it is impossible to say exactly how long a divorce will take since each case is different. Generally, couples that file uncontested divorces, the typical “irreconcilable differences,” will have the divorce finalized in 2-3 months, depending on the state’s mandatory waiting period. In Texas, that mandatory waiting period is sixty days, so any couple looking to get divorced can expect the process to take a minimum of sixty days.
However, for contested divorces involving spouses fighting over multiple things, such as child custody, alimony, division of property, the divorce can easily take more than a year to resolve. Ultimately, how long a divorce will take to be finalized in Texas depends on various factual circumstances that will widely differ across different divorces.
Factors Affecting Length of a Divorce
The ultimate answer to how long a divorce will take hinges on several factors. Shifting any one of these factors can greatly affect how long the process will take:
Mandatory Waiting Periods. Texas’ family code has laws outlining its mandatory waiting period before a divorce can be finalized. However, based on Section 6.702(b), the 60-day waiting period is not required “before a court may grant an annulment or declare a marriage void other than as required in civil cases generally.” Further, Texas law states that the 60-day waiting period may be waived if the respondent was convicted of (or received deferred adjudication) for a crime that involved family violence against the petitioner or a family member within the petitioner’s household. Note, the petitioner is the individual filing the divorce while the respondent is the petitioner’s spouse.
State Residency Requirements. States also have residency requirements that a spouse must meet before filing for divorce. These laws are aimed to prevent spouses from “forum shopping,” purposely filing a divorce in a state they have no connection with to take advantage of more favorable divorce laws. Texas requires that one spouse has been a resident in Texas for at least six months and a resident in the county they are filing in for at least 90 days before filing for the divorce in that county in Texas.
Whether the Divorce is Fault-Based. A no-fault divorce is where neither spouse is blamed for ruining the marriage, which predictably helps speed up the process because there is no finger-pointing over who’s responsible for the divorce. Texas also allows fault-based divorces, where a spouse can claim certain grounds for the divorce like insupportability, adultery, cruelty, and conviction of a felony. Filing for a fault-based divorce slows down the process because the spouse alleging grounds for the divorce has to prove them if the case goes to trial.
Problems with Serving Papers. Before a divorce court can bring a spouse into court, the filed divorce papers must be personally served on that spouse. Crafty and difficult spouses can play games that will make serving them a nightmare and further prolong the process. To serve the papers properly in Texas, the person serving must be authorized under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure Section 103, which includes:
- “(1) any sheriff or constable or other person authorized by law,
- (2) any person authorized by law or by written order of the court who si not less than eighteen years of age, or
- (3) any person certified under order of the Supreme Court.”
Any individual who plans to serve papers on their spouse must know that no person who is an interested party in the matter (or an interested party in the outcome of the divorce or lawsuit) may serve any process on the spouse.
Whether the Divorce is Contested or Uncontested. An uncontested divorce is when the spouses have already resolved all major issues when they file for divorce. These divorces save significant time and money and can be finalized if the state’s mandatory waiting period and residency requirements have been met. Conversely, a contested divorce where spouses have not agreed on a major issue will most likely result in negotiations, mediation and a long trial. This can significantly increase the length of the divorce process.
Court County’s Workload. Every county in Texas has varying amounts of divorce proceedings it must hear and will clear those cases at different speeds. Your divorce case has to make it on the court calendar for a judge to hear it, so if there is a backlog of cases at your local family court, expect the process to lengthen. Also, getting your divorce case heard before a judge will generally take longer in large, metropolitan counties.
Complexity. Several difficult circumstances can greatly increase the complexity of a divorce case, even requiring different proceedings entirely. Divorce cases get very complex when child custody is at issue because the court has to engage in a fact-intensive assessment of what is in the child’s best interests. Also, spouses with several assets like real estate, investment accounts, 401(k)s, and pensions, significantly lengthen the process. Some assets may have to be valued by expert appraisers and then distributed amongst the spouses according to a set of factors courts use to determine an equitable division.