The most frequent question I hear during client meetings is “How long will my case take?”
The answer differs depending on the situation of the case. If all issues have been agreed to in advance, the answer is much easier to give. It’s the cases where the issues need to be negotiated or resolved that makes the answer more difficult to provide. Here is a brief analysis of each type of case along with an estimated timeline and things within your control as a party to the case that can control how long it will last.
All Issues Agreed
If you and your spouse have everything agreed to in advance, then your case can usually be completed within 3-5 weeks. There are three general steps to a case such as this:
- Communicating the terms to your attorney and the paperwork being drafted by the attorney.
- The parties reviewing and ultimately signing the paperwork.
- Scheduling a court date once all documents are signed.
If everything is in agreement and the terms are clear, your attorney should be able to draft the necessary paperwork within a week. Next, if the terms have been discussed between the parties in advance and hence the agreement that was communicated to your attorney, there should not be much time needed to review the paperwork and finalize the second step. Once everything is signed, most of the Judge’s calendars have dates within two weeks where you can appear with a final agreement and complete your case.
Issues not Agreed
Depending on the issues, cases that start with few or no agreed terms can last an average of six-eighteen months. The following are the general steps of a case such as this:
- Filing and serving the other party
- The parties, their lawyers and the Judge attempt to settle the case.
- Case is settled or the case proceeds to trial (Judge decides unresolved issues.)
- If the issues are settled between the parties, the paperwork is drafted by the attorneys.
- If settled without a trial, parties review the paperwork and ultimately sign the documents.
- Court date scheduled.
- (if case proceeds to trial and Judge decides issues, paperwork is drafted consistent with Judge’s ruling)
Step 2 is where cases can be shortened or extended for several months. If your goal is to move your case forward and shorten the time, there are some things within your control to accomplish this. For example:
- If your spouse is planning to file the divorce, start interviewing attorneys and choose the person who you want to represent you in advance of the case being filed. Customarily, when a case is filed, it is placed with a process server, who then delivers the paperwork. The party served then has 30 days wherein to file paperwork about who is representing them. If you have an attorney lined up, once the divorce is filed, your attorney can file their paperwork immediately and save the time of a process server and the 30 days you normally have. If you are the person filing the divorce and you know your spouse has an attorney, ask your attorney to contact the other side and see if they will file their Appearance upon receipt of the divorce Petition.
- In contested cases, each party usually engages in written discovery. This is in the nature of seeking documents (i.e. bank statements and credit card statements) and Interrogatories (questions to be answered). Once this discovery requests are served, the other party has 30 days to respond/comply. Discuss with your attorney about issuing this discovery earlier in the process. There may be instances where holding off is necessary but if you can serve these requests earlier, then the responses will be completed earlier, allowing you to move on to the next step of the negotiations. If you are served with discovery, do not ignore the requests. Put the documents together promptly. It is not uncommon for an attorney to hold off any settlement discussions until written discovery is complete. Therefore, delaying discovery pushes back settlement discussions, which in turn delays the case.
- In addition to promptly responding to discovery requests, try to give your attorney your responses in an organized fashion. This will allow your attorney to quickly review everything and then put it together in a package for opposing counsel. If you give your attorney a box of miscellaneous/unorganized paperwork, this will delay the case.
- Make sure you and your attorney have discussed what your goal for resolution is. If you have certain terms you would agree to but do not communicate that to your attorney, then he or she may not realize the case is closer to settlement than it appears. It is important to be on the same page with your attorney.
- Make sure you are in frequent contact with your attorney and know what is being done to move the case forward. You don’t want your file being placed on the back burner. The Judge who is assigned your case will set dates from month to month called Status dates. Work with your attorney in reaching various goals from one date to the next.
The second most frequent question I get asked by clients is how much will their case cost. Keep in mind there is usually a direct correlation to the duration and cost of your case. Longer case = more expensive case. There are of course variables that are out of your control but focus on the items within your control and that will impact how long your case takes.