How Long Does a Divorce Take?
So, you've decided your marriage has to end. You may think that kicking off such a major life event is a daunting proposition. But more than two-thirds of divorces are filed by women, so it must not be so hard, right? The fact is, it's just a matter of being organized, calm, and rational.
Yes, that's possible!
To get the best advice possible, we spoke to Diana Mercer, an attorney-mediator and coauthor of Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce and a founder of Peace Talks Mediation in Los Angeles, California. "There are two divorces that you go through," she says. "There's the actual, physical divorce -- from filing the initial papers to getting the final documents in the mail, signed by a judge. But there's also an emotional divorce: the time it takes to go through the grieving process and get your life back on track, what I call 'the crazy time.'" The two might diverge, she says, and that's okay.
"The court system is quite backed up, and some states have long waiting periods, so sometimes getting those papers can take a long time -- by the time they arrive, it's an anticlimax," she says. "On the other hand, sometimes the actual divorce might be quite smooth, but one person just can't let go, and the emotional disruption drags on and on."
Los Angeles divorce attorney Clark Garen agrees. "Any divorce holdup comes back to one root: the people really don't want to let go of each other," he says. "That doesn't mean they want to be together. It means they can't let go of the anger and move on -- they want to get even. When two people are truly ready to let go, the actual divorce is pretty simple."
After 18 months, Mercer tells us, most people have put their lives back together and show signs of moving on -- getting back on track at work, dating again, or just "waking up one day, and finding that's [divorce] not the first thing you think about." If that emotional disruption drags on for more than three years, it's considered pathological, and can eat up your life if you don't get help. "What do you want your eulogy to say, 'she spent 10 years litigating her divorce?'" Mercer asks. "At some point, you have to start living for yourself, not the divorce." As for the actual paper divorce, depending on your state, the waiting period required by law, the backups in the court system, and your ability to negotiate, it could take as little as a year, but probably not less.
Of course, that might involve reining in your own emotions, or the overenthusiastic tendencies of your lawyer. "A couple is angry and their nerves are frayed, and [they might go] to a lawyer, who is often willing to feed their anger in order to enrich his own pockets. A divorce isn't about 'who gets the most money,' it's about 'how can we separate and still continue on as healthy individuals.'"