How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce?

February 1, 2021
By Clifford Petroske

For many individuals suffering in unhappy marriages, the answer to the question “how long does it take to get a divorce in New York State” will surely be “too long.”  Disaffected spouses naturally want to get on with their lives, and the thought of having one’s life tied up in a lengthy divorce action is naturally concerning.

While it’s impossible to state with any specificity how long your divorce will take to resolve, it’s clear that an uncontested divorce can be finalized more quickly — often in a matter of a few months — than a divorce where disagreements remain between the parties on important issues such as child custody and/or spousal support.

Contested divorce — where the spouses do not see eye to eye on one or more important issues – often takes many months, and sometimes years, to resolve. Because contested divorces involve going to court, the divorce timeline becomes subject to the availability of the court calendar, which can impose unpredictable delays on the process. Additionally, such divorces — because they require more effort by lawyers and other professionals such as forensic accountants – are more financially costly to obtain than uncontested ones.

Uncontested Divorces Are Quicker to Resolve
In NY State, an uncontested divorce is one that meets the following two conditions:

(a) there are no disagreements between spouses over any financial or divorce-related issues (i.e., child custody and support, division of marital property or spousal support); and

(b) both spouses agree to the divorce and cooperate in signing the required documents.

From the perspective of time and financial cost, an uncontested divorce is far superior to one in which the spouses continue to fight and disagree. It also imposes far less stress on the spouses and on any children of the marriage.

​Uncontested divorces are resolved without ever stepping into the courtroom. But it’s important to note that the mere fact that both spouses wish to be divorced is insufficient to obtain an uncontested divorce. Obtaining a legally valid uncontested divorce requires that both spouses sign a document where their mutual understanding and agreement as to the issues in their case are formally laid out.

This document — called a Stipulation of Settlement (or Marital Settlement Agreement) — is typically arrived at after a series of conferences and/or correspondences between the spouses and/or their lawyers.  Once agreement is reached, it is filed with the court and becomes part of what will eventually become a Judgment of Divorce.

Contested Divorces Take More Time
When fundamental disagreements exist between spouses over important issues such as occupancy or sale of the marital home, distribution of assets such as retirement and bank accounts, payment of debts, custody and visitation of children, child support, maintenance (alimony) and medical insurance, the only option is to bring the matter to court, where a judge will ultimately resolve them.

Because the court will require detailed information on every issue where there is disagreement, time will be expended in terms of financial research, document production, as well as court appearances and pre-trial depositions. While New York State imposes certain outside limits on the amount of time that can elapse between different actions in a contested divorce, unanticipated delays can creep into the process, further delaying timely resolution.

The good news is even contested divorces can be settled at any time before trial, even when spouses are at odds on fundamental issues (such as child custody), provided that each spouse remains open to compromise. This may happen after preliminary issues have been resolved, circumstances change, or bad feelings over the divorce have abated.

Speeding up the Divorce Process
The common complaint that the wheels of justice turn too slowly in New York State has been given new impetus due to COVID-19, which effectively shut down the court system for several months in 2020. While the court calendar has resumed, it remains to be seen how quickly the case backlog can be resolved. While the pandemic has forced the court system to update some of its archaic procedures by moving to virtual appearances and electronic document filing, there is no assurance that divorces will be resolved more quickly in the future than they’ve been resolved in the past.

Whether you face (or are contemplating) either a contested or an uncontested divorce, it is vital to engage the services of an experienced divorce attorney as early as possible. The right attorney can guide you toward the best, fastest, and most cost-effective strategy to resolve your case – in or out of court. For some couples, Divorce Mediation is an option that can speed things along, while saving couples the unpredictable time and costs associated with litigation. Your attorney, once he/she has become familiar with your situation, may advise you of other time-saving strategies that can reduce the amount of time associated with a divorce action.

We hope that this article has been informative. If you have additional questions regarding your own situation, please give us a call at (631)337-1977 or (516)699-1989. At Petroske Riezenman & Meyers, we are pleased to offer potential clients a free, confidential consultation where they can discuss their legal matter and learn more about our experience. We can also offer our preliminary assessment about how your matter will likely turn out as well as what evidence you will need for a favorable outcome.