When people consider divorce, one of the first things they always ask is, “how long does a divorce take in New York?” An answer would depend on a number of factors, as we will explain below. Overall, a divorce takes anywhere from a few months to years. It is hard to provide an exact timeframe as there is a number of factors involved:
- which county you are filing in
- whether the court in that county is congested
- whether the divorce is contested or uncontested
- whether there are children
- whether there are issues with custody
- whether there are issues with property
- whether there are issues with spousal support (alimony)
- whether any other issues come up
Contested vs. uncontested divorce: how long
Uncontested divorces take a shorter period of time than contested divorces.
An uncontested divorce is a divorce where there are no unresolved issues. Usually, this happens because there are no disputes regarding child custody or property. Sometimes, it is uncontested because the parties have already negotiated all issues before filing. An uncontested divorce in an uncontested court can take as fast as 6 weeks. In congested courts, the uncontested divorce will stretch to four (4) months. This period does not take into account the mediation stage in divorces with children and property issues. Depending on the complexity of the case and the relationship of the parties, the mediation portion (which results in a back-and-forth negotiation between the two lawyers of the spouses can take one to two months). A good divorce lawyer will know when negotiations should stop and when it’s time to file for divorce where the court is tasked with the responsibility to make a decision on the unresolved issues.
A contested divorce, on the other hand, can take a year or more to be resolved. A contested divorce is a divorce where the spouses cannot agree on certain issues such as child custody, spousal maintenance, and property division. A contested divorce has to go through the discovery process to discover information related to property, children, and other relevant items. This discovery process can take between 4 to 11 months, depending on the complexity of the case.
Bifurcation of divorce
Recently, Kim Kardashian filed papers requesting that the court declare her legally single, despite the fact that some child and property issues still remained unresolved in her marriage with Kanye West. Kim Kardashian filed for divorce on February 2021, and on March 2022, the court granted her request to be declared legally single, despite unresolved issues in her marriage.
The request to be declared legally single in the midst of a divorce is called the bifurcation of divorce. New York does not generally recognize bifurcation of divorce, except in rare cases, because it eliminates the urgency in resolving the economic issues of marriage, which could lead to protracted litigation and economic coercion. The spouse with more money can drag the divorce proceedings longer because the wealthier spouse is already allowed to get married, giving that spouse more opportunity to coerce the other spouse to settle for less than what that spouse would be entitled to in order to save on legal costs.
What to expect in divorce proceedings
Pre-divorce filing negotiations
When spouses agree to divorce, they will try to resolve the issues amongst themselves. The most commonly-disputed issues in a divorce are spousal support, child support and custody, and property division. This negotiation process prior to filing the divorce can already take between 1 to 3 months, depending on the complexity of the case. Both spouses will be represented by lawyers, and there will be a back and forth sending of letters, settlement proposals, and stipulation drafts, until the spouses find a stipulation that is acceptable to both of them.
If the parties agree on a settlement of their divorce issues, the final divorce paperwork is prepared, the spouses sign it, and the documents are sent to the court for approval. The agreement means the divorce is uncontested, and the court approval can take two to three months from filing.
If the spouses do not reach a pre-filing divorce settlement, then it becomes a contested divorce. A good divorce lawyer will tell you when to stop negotiations because both parties do not appear ready to settle. That divorce lawyer will tell you that it’s time to file with the court and let the court make the decision in resolving the dispute.
Filing and serving the divorce complaint and summons
In a contested divorce, your divorce lawyer will serve a divorce complaint and summons to the other spouse and file it with the court. In New York, you have 20 days to answer a divorce summons that is personally delivered to you. If you do not file an answer, the other spouse can move the court to enter a default judgment, and in a default judgment, the requests of the complaining spouse are usually granted because there appears to be no answer and objection from the other spouse.
Request for Judicial Intervention
If you file an answer to the divorce complaint, either party has to file a Request for Judicial Intervention (RJI) in order to bring the matter before a judge. The RJI is filed anytime after 30 days from the time the summons and complaint is served. Once the RJI is filed, the divorce case is scheduled for a Preliminary Conference before a judge or court attorney referee. This Preliminary Conference is scheduled around 30 to 45 days from the date the RJI is filed, unless there is an emergency requiring it to be scheduled earlier.
Preliminary conference and discovery
During the Preliminary Conference, the court identifies the unresolved and disputed divorce issues. Depending on how complex the divorce case is, the court will provide a discovery schedule. Usually, a non-complex case will finish the discovery of information in 4 months, a moderately complex case will complete the discovery in 7 months, and a highly complex case can take 11 months for discovery. The discovery process will include the exchange of documents, depositions, and subpoenas.
The above procedure will give you an idea of how long a contested divorce proceeding will take. There is no clear-cut time schedule because it will depend on how many issues remain unresolved, the kind of documents needed to be produced, and how fast the court responds to the requests (which depends on how congested the court is).
For this reason, it is always recommended that spouses agree to a pre-divorce filing settlement. Usually, when divorce proceedings begin and legal fees start piling up, the spouses become constrained to agree on an amicable resolution to their issues.
So, if you are wondering, how long does a divorce take in New York, an uncontested divorce can take 3 months for the court to approve, excluding the time required for you and your spouse to agree on divorce issues, such as property division and child custody. A contested divorce can take between 9 months to 1 year, depending on the complexity of the case. A contested divorce will go through the entire process of complaint, answer, request for judicial intervention, preliminary conference, discovery, presentation of evidence, and waiting time for the court to issue the divorce decree.
Your divorce lawyer will be able to guide you through this process. It is always better to take more time in the divorce proceedings rather than rush through the process because unresolved issues usually involve property division, which are important considerations that can affect your future.
Should you need a divorce lawyer, we at the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin are here for you. We have offices in New York, NY, Brooklyn, NY and Queens, NY. You can call us at 718-509-9774 or send us an email at email@example.com.