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Why Do Some Divorce Cases Take Longer Than Others?

Almost everyone has heard a divorce horror story about a divorce case that lasted for years and/or cost a small fortune in legal expenses. While those cases are the exception, they do occur. The absolute (actual) divorce is usually a simple process that can be completed within approximately 45 days from when the other side is served with divorce paperwork, or about 60 days from filing a lawsuit for divorce unless there are contested issues, such as if a party disputes the date of separation. However, the parties must be separated at least one full year before they are eligible to initiate the legal action for absolute divorce. The ancillary issues related to divorce, including child custody, child support, postseparation support, alimony, and division of property and debts are issues that generally take more time to resolve. Some factors that may impact how long it will take to resolve the legal issues related to your separation and divorce include the following:

  • The number of issues to be resolved. The fewer issues that are in dispute between you and your spouse, the greater your chances of a speedy resolution.
  • The complexity of the issues in dispute. For example, if there is a dispute over whether an asset is the separate property of one spouse, a forensic expert may need to be retained to trace the asset to its origin. Additionally, other assets may need to be valued or appraised, such as real estate or business interests. Retaining a forensic accountant, real estate appraiser, and/or business valuator to obtain necessary information and documentation and prepare an evaluation report will take time.
  • The level of hostility between the parties. Ongoing conflicts between the parties may lead to interim issues which have to be addressed which can delay progress toward final resolution. Additionally, if the parties are able to resolve the issues arising from their separation and divorce through settlement negotiations or mediation, their divorce related matters will most likely be resolved more efficiently and expeditiously than if the parties go to court and have their matters determined by a judge.
  • If the parties file their legal proceedings in a judicial district that has a dedicated Family Court, their issues are more likely to be resolved within a shorter period of time. Judicial districts, such as Buncombe County, have a dedicated Family Court. When an action is filed in Family Court, the case is assigned to one judge who hears all matters related to that case. Additionally, the court schedules regular hearings and deadlines to ensure that the case is on track and moving toward resolution.
  • Cooperation of the parties. If one or both parties are uncooperative and refuse to timely provide pertinent information and documents, this can cause delay.
  • Surprises by the opposing party. Practicing law is analogous to playing chess. You and your attorney may have a strategy mapped out, but you can never predict what the opposing party will do. For example you may file a lawsuit for divorce and equitable distribution, and the opposing party may file a response seeking to have your lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that you were never legally married. These unexpected responses can take your case in a totally different direction.

While your attorney cannot predict exactly how long your case will take, your attorney can explain the legal process and procedure to you so that you understand deadlines and certain time frames. Knowing what to expect and being kept informed of the status of your legal matters can be very helpful in understanding and coping with delays.

This article is for information purposes only and is not to be considered or substituted as legal advice. The information in this article is based on North Carolina state laws in effect at the time of posting.