One of the many reasons why divorce is such a stressful process is because it takes a long time. A lot of people ask, “How long does divorce take after filing papers?” The answer is, if you hire a lawyer and litigate your divorce it can take 1 – 2 years to finally be divorced. During that time you are each advised by your respective lawyers not to talk to the other about the divorce settlement without your lawyer present, for your protection, so you don’t agree to something that is not in your best interest.
That makes sense, however, not talking about the settlement, using lawyers to fight to maximize your outcome, and doing so over 1-2 years creates immense tension, stress and emotional baggage on a couple, and more importantly, on their children, that creates stress and baggage that is hard to get past.
When you litigate a divorce, every issue becomes a tug-of-war where you both fight hard to get as much as possible. Each issue becomes another “round” in a boxing match where you do everything you can to “win”. That is a very challenging environment to foster a healthy co-parenting relationship, let alone a tension-free dynamic so the children are not impacted by your divorce.
How long does divorce take after filing papers and why does a lawyer-led divorce take so long?
1. Lawyers are busy, they have other clients.
Courts are busy. Judges are not available all the time. You and your spouse have different schedules and availabilities. Bringing all of these scheduling challenges together to all meet on the same day, at the same time, in the same place takes effort and it is always easier for the lawyers and judges to “kick the can down the road” to find availability instead of moving their existing schedule to accommodate your divorce. There will be times when you stop and realize a month has gone by and nothing has happened.
2. When you do get scheduled for a hearing, all it takes is one of the parties (yourself, your spouse, either of your lawyers or the judge) to have a conflict.
Whether that conflict is personal or client-related, you will have to re-schedule at the next time when all parties are available. Sometimes it takes weeks or months to get another court date.
3. The more conflicted your divorce is, the less likely the judge or your lawyers will prioritize you.
Judges and lawyers prefer to spend their time with more amicable clients who are easier to work with. Many divorce lawyers leave divorce litigation because of the angst involved. If the judge prefers to get easier motions out of the way first, you can find your motion held til the of the court session, which sometimes results in you being bumped to another day.
4. Conflict takes time to resolve.
Because both spouses in a litigated divorce are not quick to compromise, each issue requires a proposal, a counter-proposal, a counter-counter-proposal, etc. All this time going back and further, lawyers are billing by the hour too. It is not in their incentive to move the process more quickly.
5. For some issues the parties need to produce documentation from an employer or a bank.
Those requests take time. And then it takes more time to discuss with your lawyer, understand the law, create a strategy, file a motion, reply to the other party and resolve the issue before or during a hearing with the judge.
6. In many litigated divorces one of the spouses fights for more time with the children and this sometimes requires a guardian ad litem (“GAL”) to be assigned by the court to evaluate each parent and all of the children.
Processes such as this slows down the divorce process while the GAL conducts his or her evaluation, documents a recommendation and presents it to the court.
In Illinois, a litigated divorce will take 1 – 2 years, and during that time there is a constant sense of stress, anxiety, anger and tension. This undoubtedly is what give divorce a bad name. It also inflicts emotional damage on a couple’s children which many times results in a child having issues with one of both parents, being impacted developmentally and potentially requiring therapy post-divorce.
Why Does A Mediated Divorce Only Take 3 – 4 Months?
1. In a mediated divorce both spouses come to the table knowing they have to listen to each other, be reasonable and be willing to compromise.
This alone allows the divorce to proceed so much more quickly.
2. A mediated divorce is done on the couples’ schedule and only requires coordination with their single mediator.
There is no need to coordinate schedules with two lawyers and a judge. As a result, not only can sessions be scheduled more easily, most mediators understand the couple is under a lot of stress already and will work around the couple’s needs to schedule sessions. These can be after-hours when the children are in bed, on the weekends, or during the day when both spouses are available. Unlike litigated divorces where sometimes no progress is made in a month, great progress is made in a mediated divorce every week.
3. A mediator does more than just get a couple divorced.
A mediator also has the time and empathy to care more about the couple’s success as healthy co-parents post-divorce. As a result, mediators encourage regular sessions so the couple can learn and practice techniques that the mediator will encourage them to practice post-divorce. This is an important part of mediation, helping the couple parent their children in a way so the children still feel as though they are part of a family that just happens to live in two different homes.
4. The legal process is complicated and very methodical because it is built to resolve conflicts between two spouses who can’t talk to each other, let alone come to an agreement on anything.
Mediation, on the other hand, encourages each spouse to listen to the other and come together to create solutions for their family. As a result, the process is quick and nimble, and often decisions are reached much more quickly.
5. The mediator understands that divorce is expensive, and they also want the best for the children post-divorce.
Most mediators will do their best to minimize fees so the couple can save their marital assets o support their children and even help fund their children’s college educations (because sometimes litigation can cost the equivalent of a college education).
In my mediation process, I commit to all of my couples that we can complete a financial-only divorce in 6 hours, and a parenting and financial divorce in 20 hours maximum (we usually don’t even need all of that time). I like to schedule 90-minute sessions, so that usually means we can complete your entire divorce 4 – 10 sessions which we try to conduct on a weekly basis. That means in 2-3 months you can have your entire divorce agreed to; add another month for a lawyer to review, draft your formal divorce papers and schedule a hearing with a judge and you can be amicably divorced in 3-4 months maximum. That short duration allows a family to move out of the “divorce process” and into the post-divorce process more quickly, where children can spend more time growing and less time uncertain and anxious.
If you’d like to discuss your situation, I offer free consultations. Call me at (224) 544-9990 or email me at email@example.com and I can provide more specific guidance based upon your unique situation. You may also learn more about me and read a number of articles I have published about mediation on my website at michaelsmediation.com.
Michael Cohen, who also earned his CPA, is an accomplished business leader with extensive experience in people management and cross-functional projects that required him to often mediate and find the best path forward for people and teams, throughout his career. These skills are critical in a mediation setting. Coupled with Michael’s own experience in a litigated divorce, he is driven to help divorcing couples navigate their divorce in the healthiest way possible. Michael is the founder of Michael’s Mediation, which serves divorcing couples across the U.S. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois with a divorce mediation certification from Northwestern University. Michael is a loving father of three and lives in the Northern Suburbs of Chicago. Learn more here.