How Long Does Family Court Take?
Going through family court can be a long and stressful process. The length of time a family court case takes depends on several factors, including the type of case, level of conflict, court backlog, and cooperation of the parties involved. Generally, simpler cases take less time, while complex custody battles or cases involving substantial assets can drag out for months or even years.
What Factors Determine How Long Family Court Takes?
Type of Case
The type of family law case is one of the biggest factors in how long it will take to resolve. Simple divorces with minimal issues like property division tend to be quicker, while cases involving child custody, child support, alimony, and domestic violence tend to take longer.
For divorces involving only the dissolution of marriage with minimal contested issues, the process may take 3-6 months on average. If spousal or child support is requested, it may take 6-12 months.
Child custody disputes often require home studies, psychological evaluations, and hearings to determine what’s in the child’s best interest. These cases can easily take 6 months to 2 years. Temporary orders are common while evaluations are pending.
Cases involving domestic violence often start with requests for restraining orders and emergency temporary custody orders. Permanent orders typically take 6-12 months.
Establishing regular child support when paternity is not contested may only take 1-3 months. However, if paternity tests are needed or parents dispute income levels, it can take 6 months to a year. Modifying existing orders also takes several months.
Alimony determinations require financial disclosures by both parties. Contested cases can take 1-2 years, as income and expenses are verified.
Level of Conflict
The level of conflict and willingness to cooperate impacts duration. Couples who agree to mediation and negotiate amicably can resolve issues in months rather than years. High-conflict cases with bitter disputes go to litigation and trial, dragging out the process.
Heavy caseloads and backlogs in family courts slow down the process. Urban areas with higher population density tend to have heavier caseloads and longer wait times. Simple cases may take 3-6 months in less populated areas but 6-12 months in major metro areas.
Cooperation of Parties
If the parties are able to compromised and agree on issues like property distribution, support, and custody arrangements, the case moves faster. Lack of cooperation and frequent disputes over petty issues delays the process.
How Long Does Each Stage of Family Court Take?
Family court cases go through several stages, each taking varying amounts of time. Here’s a breakdown of how long each phase usually takes:
Filing Initial Paperwork
To start a divorce or family law case, paperwork such as petitions, financial affidavits, and requests for orders need to be prepared and formally filed with the court. This stage takes approximately 1-4 weeks.
Service of Process
The respondent or defendant has to be formally served with notice of the pending case. Defendants have 20-30 days to file a response after being served. Service takes 1-6 weeks to complete in most cases.
The discovery phase involves depositions, interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and exchanges of financial information and documentation. This can take 3-6 months in standard cases and over a year in complex ones.
Motions and Hearings
Preliminary motions may be filed and heard during the discovery phase. Custody evaluations, mediation, temporary support hearings, and emergency petitions for orders like restraining orders may occur. Most are decided in 1-6 months.
Serious settlement talks often don’t begin until after the discovery phase. Simple cases may settle in 2-3 months of negotiation. Complex litigation may have sporadic talks over 6-12 months.
If agreements can’t be reached, the court case typically heads to trial. Trial preparation including witness lists, evidence preparation, briefs, and motions takes 2-6 months on average after the discovery phase ends.
Contested trials often take between 1-5 days on average. Domestic violence and child custody disputes tend to have shorter 1-3 day trials. Divorce cases with complex property and support issues may have weeklong trials.
After a trial judgment, parties can file motions to reconsider or appeal. Appeals must be filed within 30 days of final orders. Overall post-trial motion practice may take 2-6 months.
Most cases resolve by settlement before trial, taking 3-12 months for uncontested cases. Contested judgments after trial often enter 6-18 months after filing. Enforcement and modification of orders can still be required after the final judgement.
How Long Does Family Court Take by Type of Case?
Here is a summary of the typical duration of common family law case types from initial filing to final resolution:
- Uncontested Divorce (no kids): 3-6 months
- Contested Divorce (no kids): 6-12 months
- Divorce with Child Custody Dispute: 1-2 years
- Establishing Paternity & Child Support: 6-12 months
- Modifying Existing Child Support: 4-8 months
- Establishing Alimony: 1-2 years
- Modifying Alimony: 6-12 months
- Domestic Violence Case (Restraining Order): 2-6 months
- Contested Child Relocation Case: 6-12 months
- Grandparent Visitation Case: 6-12 months
- Termination of Parental Rights: 6-12 months
Cases involving financial complexities, business valuations, division of substantial marital assets, or bitter custody battles can routinely take 2-5 years to fully resolve.
Tips to Speed up Family Court
There are some things parties can do to help move their family law case along:
- Compromise when possible – Cooperating and compromising instead of fighting over every little issue helps cases resolve faster. Be willing to negotiate and avoid court if you can.
- Keep communications civil – Maintain polite, businesslike contact with your ex and avoid unnecessary arguments. Don’t use your kids or money as leverage.
- Organize important documents – Keep all your financial records and documents organized for quick production if required.
- Avoid unnecessary motions – Don’t file frivolous motions or requests that will only cause delay. Focus on what’s truly important.
- Prepare for meetings and hearings – Being fully prepared with all your facts, evidence, and supporting documents helps hearings go smoothly.
- Respond promptly – Always meet deadlines for filings and discovery requests promptly. Delayed responses bog down the process.
- Consider alternatives to litigation – Mediation, arbitration, or collaborative divorce can resolve issues faster without going to trial.
- Get an experienced family law attorney – An experienced lawyer knows how to keep the case on track and push it forward efficiently.
Waiting Periods in Family Court
Certain types of family law cases require mandatory waiting periods by law before the court can grant relief. Common waiting periods include:
- Divorce – Most states impose a waiting period of 6 months to 1 year from the date of filing before a divorce decree can be granted. This provides a window for potential reconciliation.
- Remarriage after divorce – Many states require divorced parties to wait 30 days after a divorce judgment before getting remarried. This prevents bigamy issues if an appeal is filed.
- Name change – For a name change related to divorce, there is often a 1-2 month waiting period after filing to give creditors notice.
- Termination of parental rights – Parents must abandon a child or fail to support/contact them for 6 months before rights can be terminated.
- Stepparent adoption – After filing for adoption, 6 months must elapse before an adoption decree. This ensures time for birth parents to object.
Mandatory waiting periods can be frustrating but are required for due process, creditor notification, and public policy reasons. If you are anxious to get a divorce finalized or adoption completed, be sure to plan accordingly around these built-in delays.
How to Track Your Family Court Case Progress
It can be very frustrating waiting through a lengthy family court case with no idea where things stand. Here are some tips to help track your case progress:
- Review court dockets online – Many courts have online case databases you can check for filing dates, orders, and hearing schedules.
- Follow up with your attorney regularly – Maintain contact with your lawyer to get status updates on documents filed, response deadlines, etc.
- Attend all hearings – Go to all scheduled case hearings so you stay fully looped in on rulings and next steps.
- Check in with court clerk’s office – Court clerks can provide updates on pending motions, upcoming hearing dates, judges assigned, etc.
- Contact child custody evaluators – If a custody evaluation is pending, call the evaluator’s office to check on status reports.
- Keep a case log – Write down key events, ruling dates, deadlines, and notes from talks with your lawyer.
- Create reminders for dates – Use a calendar to set reminders for court dates, document deadlines, and follow-ups for your records.
- Stay organized – Keep files, notes, orders, correspondence, and forms handy so you can reference details easily.
In summary, family court cases can take anywhere from a few months for simple divorces to several years for highly complex, acrimonious cases. Factors like level of conflict, court backlog, and willingness to compromise all impact duration. Set expectations accordingly, seek experienced legal advice, stay organized, and maintain civility with your ex to help keep things moving. With diligence and patience, you’ll get through the process as smoothly as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a divorce take less than 6 months?
In most states, there is a mandatory 6-month waiting period before a divorce can be finalized. However, all the paperwork and hearings to get a case ready for a final judgement can be completed in less than 6 months. If both spouses cooperate fully, an uncontested divorce can be ready for the waiting period in 2-3 months.
Does it take longer if I’m contesting custody?
Yes, contested child custody cases with custody evaluations, home studies, and lengthy hearings take substantially longer – often 1-2 years. If custody is contested, expect the process to be drawn out significantly.
What delays family court cases the most?
Delays are most often caused by continuance requests, problems serving process properly, prolonged discovery disputes, attorney or judge reassignments, and general court backlog and scheduling issues. Lack of cooperation and frequent emergencies also bog things down.
Should I expect a long case if assets and debts are complex?
Yes, anytime substantial assets and debts must be closely evaluated and divided, expect long case durations. Property division involving businesses, professionals practices, real estate, and investments makes for very complex, lengthy cases.
Can we resolve temporary issues pretty quickly?
Some urgent issues like temporary custody, visitation, alimony and child support can often get addressed through expedited hearings fairly early in the process, within 1-2 months typically. Temporary relief helps ease these pressing issues while the full case proceeds.