How Long Does an Uncontested Divorce Take?
By Beverly Bird
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Uncontested divorce is an often misunderstood concept of law. By definition, it simply means that you and your spouse have reached an agreement and you don’t require a judge to make any decisions regarding your children or your property. The road to that agreement can be short or long. After you’ve reached an agreement, you can generally be divorced in a relatively short period of time.
Reaching an Agreement
The simplest and speediest of uncontested divorces occur when spouses have a signed marital settlement agreement before even filing for divorce. They’ve ironed out their differences ahead of time, and they can note this in the divorce petition. In such situations, you can usually be divorced immediately, as soon as you’ve met your state’s waiting requirement. Other spouses file for divorce and then attempt to begin hammering out an agreement. This process of negotiating can take several months to a year or more, depending on how contentious your matter is. You may have to engage in a period of discovery, exchanging financial documentation, or require custody evaluations and property appraisals. Even if you settle at the eleventh hour, just before trial, your divorce is considered uncontested if a judge doesn't have to rule on your issues.
Some states impose waiting periods after the filing of a complaint or petition for divorce and before the court can grant a final decree. Even if you have a settlement agreement going in, you usually must wait out this time. The courts want to make sure you really do want to be divorced, and the waiting periods allow you time to reflect and change your mind. Often, spouses will use these waiting periods to negotiate a settlement if they don't have one going in. Once you have an agreement, you can possibly receive a divorce the day after the waiting period expires. This can be as quickly as 20 days in Florida and 30 days in Georgia, to as long as 18 months in some states.
Divorce by Default
If you serve your spouse with a complaint for divorce and he doesn’t respond by filing an answer with the court within a statutory period of time, usually 20 to 35 days, you can ask the court to enter default against him. This also means your divorce is uncontested, just as if you had reached an agreement, because your spouse is not forcing a judge to make decisions for you. You’ll have to wait out the time he has in which to respond, then wait for the court to schedule a default hearing to finalize your matter. This can take anywhere from one to three months.
Some states allow you to simply submit your written and signed settlement agreement to the court, and a judge will sign off on it and include it in a divorce decree. Other states require one or both spouses to appear in court to formally end their marriage. In either case, receiving a final decree can take four to six weeks after you submit your agreement to the court. If you reached the agreement before you even filed, and if your state has no waiting period or only a minimal waiting period, you could conceivably reach this point and finalize everything within a couple of months.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.