Waiting periods, compulsory separations, residency requirements— such speed bumps can slow down the path to divorce. But there are a lot of different ways for couples to speed things back up.
Divorce can be a complex and expensive process that leaves both sides eager to get things done. But exactly how long this cycle is trying to extend on varies state by state— and couple by couple. Fortunately, all 50 states now have some sort of “no-fault” divorce law that makes things move faster than 20 or 30 years ago.
“Back then, a divorcing spouse often needed to spend time proving ‘fault’ for the divorce, including hiring private investigators to follow a cheating spouse,” says Bari Z. Weinberger, certified matrimonial law attorney and founder of Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group of New Jersey. “Being able to file on the no-fault grounds of irreconcilable differences can be a time saver.” But beyond no-fault, there is a lot of variation across state lines.
The slow divorce states
To avoid rash decisions to untie the knot, several states have set up speed bumps, such as the mandatory waiting periods. “California is notoriously slow because it mandates a six-month ‘cooling-off’ period to ensure both parties are truly committed to dissolving their marriage,” Weinberger explains. “This is often why we see Hollywood celeb couples announce their divorce on one date, and then six months later there is a follow-up announcement their divorce was finalized.”
Another snail state is Vermont, which requires couples to live separately for six months. In addition, “a year’s residency is required before the divorce will be granted and then there’s a three-month ‘decree nisi’ period to go through before the judge’s approval is absolute,” divorce attorney Bruce Provda told ABC News.
Among other areas of the world, Rhode Island has a five-month cooling-off period, and South Carolina requires a one-year separation before filing for divorce, as well as a three-month residence period where both parties remain in the state, according to the Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group. Meanwhile in Arkansas, “there is a mandatory 18-month period of separation, and any co-habitation during that period will reset the clock,” Provda says.
What makes slow states slow?
Besides waiting periods, separations, and residency requirements, co-parenting programs are requested in some states (from New Hampshire to Washington) while other states suffer from dysfunctional or backlogged court systems (California has a lot of company here). What’s worse, some couples are not aware of or have no access to time-saving options like an out-of-court settlement.
“When you have all of these factors present, divorce more easily gets bogged down,” Weinberger says. But it’s important to note that there’s a logic behind policies like waiting periods.
“Often in divorce, something has erupted in the relationship, and the state hopes to protect the family,” says Mary G. Kirkpatrick, an attorney with Kirkpatrick & Goldsborough, a Vermont-based firm. “Waiting periods cool things down and—in cases with children—give people a real sense of what it’s like to parent from different households.”
The fast divorce states
Some states offer a smoother road to Splitsville, particularly New Jersey— where Weinberger practices— which has no mandatory “cooling off” time. “We have a ‘benchmark’ of one year from filing to decree in the ‘typical divorce’ case that includes assets and children,” she says.
For simpler cases in which the parties reach an agreement, the time for divorce could be weeks; more complicated cases could be longer than one year. “But there is no mandated—’this is how long it will take you to divorce’—law in New Jersey,” Weinberger says.
Some swift states include New Hampshire (which does not have a minimum processing date), Nevada (which includes only six weeks of residency and a minimum processing period of 42 days) and Alaska (which has a minimum processing time of 30 days for residents) according to the Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group.
What else makes fast states fast?
“The big one is the ability to file for a no-fault divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences without a mandatory separation,” Weinberger says. “For example, in New Jersey, a couple can file for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences and still live together throughout the duration of their divorce.”
Another time-saver is the ability to get as many things out of court as possible. “In New Jersey, divorcing spouses attend court-mandated mediation to work through asset division and other issues,” says Weinberger. “They are often able to resolve all or most in a fraction of the time it takes to go before a judge.”
What mistakes do couples make that slow things down?
When it comes to the speed of divorce proceedings, couples themselves have a significant impact on how fast or slow their divorce is going. What trips most people up? “The top thing divorce attorneys see are spouses who dig in and fight over everything,” says Weinberger. “When you spend time arguing over who gets the microwave, it’s time to step back and reassess. Keep your emotions out of the process.”
In fact, a divorce with a “winning” mindset can not be the most reasonable approach— especially with children. “There are certain divorce battles that are rarely ‘won’ by either side. If you are both good parents, the court will most likely try to get custody to as close to fifty-fifty as possible because that’s in the best interest of your child,” Weinberger explains. “So spending all your time fighting for full custody may not be a good use of resources.”
What smart moves can couples make to speed things up?
If you ask attorneys for advice on speeding up the process, their answers don’t have to do with cheating the system. “Whenever anyone asks me, ‘How long will it take to divorce’ my favorite answer is, ‘As long as the least reasonable person in the room wants it to take,’” says Weinberger. “It’s always a good idea to talk to a divorce attorney about how to prioritize what you want and need in your settlement. You want to enter the process with realistic expectations.”
Kirkpatrick suggests another key factor can streamline the process. “Transparency is very important,” she advises. “During the period of discovery, when each side is gathering information about the other side, be as forthcoming as possible.” Withholding information could result in further expenses and delays.
Mediate to save time
“If there is any way you can sit down with your spouse and a neutral third-party mediator to decide the issues of your divorce, it’s worth exploring this process,” Weinberger urges. “Mediation takes less time to reach a settlement than going to court, is less costly than typical litigation, and is generally less stressful too.”