How Long Does a Divorce take in New York State?

The timeline of the divorce process is often misunderstood. Many people feel that they can enter the process and be divorced in a month. Realistically speaking that is very uncommon.

As a divorce attorney in New York State with offices in White Plains, Westchester County, I always feel that it is important to accurately explain the divorce process to every client and make sure every client knows what to expect including a timeframe for certain milestones in the divorce process. In this blog I wanted to explain the process from a time perspective with significant milestones.

Our divorce attorneys are highly recognized in Westchester County and fight to get results. Importantly, we want our clients to know each and every step of the process as we feel communication with our clients is key to effective representation.

Pre-Filing a Divorce Action

Before a divorce action is filed with the New York State Supreme Court a client can work with an attorney for days or months attempting to negotiate a settlement. How quickly a pre-filing settlement can be reached depends on the complexity of the issues involved between the parties and how willing the parties are to reach an out of court settlement.

When I meet with a client for the first time I unusually identify all the issues for the divorce and, if the client wants to, I will try to reach a pre-filing divorce settlement. This includes letters and settlement proposals to the other spouse or the other attorney.

Depending on the progress including cooperation and a likelihood of settlement this could take approximately 3 to 4 months to reach a final settlement. After a settlement is reached the final divorce documents are prepared and sent to the court for signature. Depending on the County this process could take an additional 2 to 3 months.

Importantly, during any pre-filing divorce negotiations the best divorce attorneys know when to stop negotiating and move into court. If there are delays by a spouse, attorney or if the case is simply "going in circles" without an agreement or the promise of an agreement the best course of action is not to waste time and to move into Court to resolve the divorce case.

Post-Filing Divorce Action

Once a summons and complaint is served and filed nothing will happen on a divorce case in court unless either party files a Request for Judicial Intervention (RJI). This is the document that gets the case before a Judge. How quickly a party can file an RJI depends if the spouse has answered the lawsuit or if there is some emergency. Generally after a summons and complaint is served and filed there is a 30 day period before an RJI can be filed.

Once an RJI is filed with the Court the matter will be scheduled for a Preliminary Conference either before a Judge or a Court Attorney Referee (Westchester County). The time to get a Preliminary Conference date depends on the County but generally is 30-45 days unless there is an emergency issue.

At the Preliminary Conference all the issues in the divorce case are identified and depending how complex the case is the Court will assign it a discovery schedule as follows:

  1. Non-Complex Case – Discovery finished within 4 months
  2. Moderately Complex Case – Discovery finished within 7 months
  3. Complex Case – Discovery finished within 11 months

This timeframe is the Court's goal to resolve all discovery within a set period of time. The discovery includes all document exchanged, depositions, subpoenas etc.

At the Preliminary Conference the Judge will also set a date for the Plaintiff's Attorney to file a Note of Issue, certifying that all discovery is finished.

The Court's make every effort to keep cases moving but of course there are sometimes delays including motion practice, difficulty scheduling depositions or obtaining documents. During the discovery process the Court will regularly have compliance conferences to check the status of discovery and resolve any potential issues.

After the Discovery process is finished and the Note of Issue is filed the Court will set the matter down for a Pre-Trial Conference and a Trial. Depending on the County the divorce action is pending in this could take a few months. Trials are the most time consuming event for a court. Depending on the county trial dates can take three months (common in Westchester County) or nine months (common in the Bronx).

The Divorce Trial

Depending on the issues and the amount of witnesses a divorce trial can take a few days or weeks. Most Judges will want the trial to occur over consecutive days but it is not uncommon to start a trial and schedule additional trial days months later.

After all this, how long will my divorce case take?

As you can see there are lots of variables in determining a timeframe to get divorced. The more complex cases with adversarial parties or attorneys will take the longest. It is not uncommon for a divorce case to take over a year from the very beginning to the end. There are no short cuts and the top divorce attorneys will tell you that it is better to take additional time to make sure the case is handled properly then to rush the process forward.

Considering a Divorce?

If you are considering a divorce it is important to understand all the issues in a divorce action in New York State. At our law offices we always take the time to explain the process, answer your questions, make sure you have a full understanding of you case so we can protect your interests.

To contact one of our divorce lawyers at Proto, Sachs & Brown, LLP,  call (914) 946-4808 for a Free Consultation. Our main office is in Westchester County, White Plains and to better serve our Northern Westchester clients we maintain an office in downtown Peekskill, New York. We also handle all divorces in the surrounding counties of Orange, Putnam, Dutchess, Rockland and the Bronx.