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How Long Does A Divorce Take?

Posted by John Millard | Apr 29, 2024 | 0 Comments

Other than "How much does a divorce cost?" the most common question we're asked is "How long will my divorce take?" Both questions are important, but as you can imagine, they're difficult to answer with absolute precision and certainty. Divorce is unpredictable, and you can't always control a case's direction. But we've been doing this long enough to have a reasonable idea of how long a "typical" divorce takes to conclude.

The Stages and Timeline for a Divorce.

There are six "stages" of a divorce case. Each stage represents a significant and distinct milestone in the life of the case. And each one has a variety of tasks that must be completed before moving on to the next stage. At any step along the way, a case can be resolved. So for example, if the parties negotiate early and fully settle all issues in dispute, not all the case stages are necessary. This is why mediation and arbitration are so important in family law cases. Divorces can be expensive, but they don't have to be! Sitting down early with a skilled mediator is a great way to reduce costs and limit the wear and tear that often accompanies a nasty divorce battle. 

The following estimates represent the anticipated time needed to complete the various tasks in a "typical" contested divorce. Because each case is unique, it is impossible to know precisely how long each task may take. Factors affecting the timeline can include the Court's availability, whether the other side intentionally delays or drags things out, how quickly and thoroughly the parties can exchange vital case information, etc. But generally speaking, the following is a good representation of what to expect and how long the necessary tasks may take to complete.

The Statutory 60-Day Waiting Period.

Except in specific limited circumstances, a court may not grant a divorce before the 60th day after the date the suit was filed. The sixty-day waiting period is not required if the Court finds that the Respondent has been finally convicted of or received deferred adjudication for an offense involving family violence against the Petitioner or a member of the Petitioner's household. The Court can also waive it if the Petitioner has an active protective order or magistrate's order for emergency protection based on a finding of family violence against the Respondent due to acts committed during the marriage.

This so-called "waiting period" was created to give spouses time to "cool off" and potentially reconcile. Reconciliation after filing suit for divorce is not as uncommon as you may think. Spouses often reconsider whether they really want a divorce after they have had some time to calm down and fully consider the implications. This is why Texas allows divorcing parties to dismiss or "nonsuit" a divorce suit after it has been filed without providing any reason whatsoever for the dismissal. 

If the parties are in agreement with all issues in the case, including any disputes regarding the children and the division of their property and debts, it is conceivable that the divorce can be granted in as little as 61 days after the date suit is filed. Thus, for purposes of the timeline, the divorce can be concluded very quickly if there is a complete agreement on all issues. 

The Contested Divorce Case.

The timeline for a contested case, that is, one where the parties disagree on at least one issue, is far less clear. In a contested divorce, the timeline will depend primarily on whether custody of children is in dispute, whether there are significant marital assets or debts to divide, and how difficult or disagreeable one or both parties are regarding these issues.

Below is an overview of the typical tasks for a contested case and estimates for how long they may take to complete. Once the decision to file a divorce has been made, one of the parties must prepare a Petition for Divorce and file it with the District Clerk in the appropriate Court. In Texas, in order for a court to have "jurisdiction," or authority, to hear a case, at least one of the parties must be a resident of Texas for at least six months and a resident of the county where the suit is filed for at least 90 days preceding the date the lawsuit is filed. The filing of the Original Petition for Divorce gets the timeline started. The additional steps that must be completed after filing and estimates for each are set forth below:

Personal Service of Petition and Citation (approximately 30 days, but can be much longer) – after the initial filing, the Petition for Divorce must be "served" on the other party. The time to complete this task greatly depends on the other party's willingness (or stubbornness) when it comes to being found and served. Some people will evade or "dodge service." In other words, they will intentionally hide from the process server to avoid being personally served. In certain instances, a delay in service can lengthen the divorce process by several months. Private Process Servers tend to be faster, more resourceful, and more efficient than local sheriff's deputies, so we generally use our own private process servers to effectuate service.

Also, if the opposing party is willing to sign a "Waiver of Service," it will dispense entirely with the need to locate and personally serve the other party. A common mistake self-represented litigants make is securing an opposing party's signature on a waiver before the date suit is filed. Under Texas law, a waiver can be signed only after the petition has been filed. If signed before the filing date, it is considered "defective" and must be re-signed, or the Respondent must be served. 

Answer Period (approximately 20 days) - after a process server delivers the Citation and Petition for Divorce to the other party, they have roughly 20 days to file an answer. In actuality, the answer date is due "on the Monday next after the expiration of twenty days." Therefore, calculate twenty days after the other party is personally served, and then move to 10:00 a.m. on the next Monday on the calendar. This is a predictable period of time. But be aware that attorney-lead divorce cases can take many twists and turns. There are numerous legitimate ways to delay a case significantly. For example, the other party's lawyer may attempt to move the location for the case, or "venue," to another county or even challenge the Court's jurisdiction to hear the case at all, for example, when a claim is made that another court already has jurisdiction over the matter, another state is a more appropriate forum for the case, or another state is the "home state" for the children.

Financial Disclosure / Discovery (30 to 180 days) - every contested case requires both sides to exchange a minimum specified set of financial documents through "Required Initial Disclosures." We will take a deep dive into the Required Disclosures in a future blog post, but what's important to note now is they are mandatory and require significant effort on the client's part to complete. At MillardLaw, we have developed a sophisticated intake system that helps our clients (and our Firm) gather all the required information thoroughly and efficiently, reducing stress on our clients and ensuring that we are always proactive rather than reactive.

The minimum documents required include the parties' last three paycheck stubs, most recent tax return with all schedules, bank statements for up to two years, credit card statements for up to two years, and retirement account statements. Deeds and mortgage information for real estate must also be exchanged. Generally, the financial disclosure/discovery process takes about one to three months. But remember that highly contested cases that proceed to trial have more intense and time-consuming disclosure and discovery requirements, including the designation of expert witnesses, exchange of trial exhibits, and sworn inventories and appraisements of property. Depositions (questions and answers in front of a court reporter) are procedures that can significantly increase and extend the timeline (and costs) for a divorce. But typically, depositions only occur in a case with large amounts of money at issue or in disputed custody cases.

Parenting Course (if there are minor children) – concurrent with other tasks - Fort Bend County Family Law Courts require completion of a 4-hour parenting course by both parents (if there are children), typically within 30 days of filing the petition or appearance by the Respondent. You should plan to take your course as soon as possible after the case commences. Taking your parenting course immediately at the start of the matter is an excellent idea. For one thing, you may learn something that can make you a better parent. Importantly, you will learn about divorce's impact on children (even when the parents get along well). Finally, it always looks good to the Judge when you take your parenting class promptly. That way, the Judge knows you are serious about your obligations to the Court and your children.

Mediation (4 to 6 months from filing)twomediations can occur during a divorce case. Suppose a temporary orders hearing is needed regarding any issues related to children. In that case, the parties will be required to attend mediation on those issues before being allowed to proceed with the temporary orders hearing. A second mediation is also required in a contested case before the final trial. Fort Bend County requires mediation before the final trial in all contested divorce cases, even if you have already mediated previously for temporary orders. But, mediation is a good thing. Many cases will settle at the mediation conference. When a divorce case settles at mediation, the time to get a divorce is reduced, often resulting in significant savings.

Mediation can be done through an agreed mediator or, if no agreement can be reached, through a mediator appointed by the Judge from the Court's "wheel." The wheel is a list of mediators who are approved by the Court. As the name implies, the list rotates around like a wheel. The next attorney at the top of the wheel is appointed. When the wheel is used to select a mediator, it is a hit-or-miss proposition. Maybe the next mediator on the wheel is perfectly suited for your case, but then again, maybe not! It's a gamble.

The better practice is for the parties to agree on a mediator who is best suited for that particular case. Selecting a private mediator can reduce delays in the divorce process, especially one who has the requisite knowledge and experience to understand the issues in your dispute.

If successful, a Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA) is filed with the Court immediately after the mediation. If an agreement is reached at mediation, it is binding not only on the parties but also (with some limitations) on the Court. After mediation, the parties must arrange for and attend a final hearing to "prove up" the Mediated Settlement Agreement.

Final Hearing (4 – 6 months after the start of the case, on average) – the time it will take to reach a final trial is tough to nail down. If everything goes smoothly, the case can be resolved within this timeframe. But it can take a year or longer to resolve a matter! The final hearing or "trial" is the last stage of a divorce. If your case proceeds along the "contested" track, your case will most likely end in an uncontested or agreed final hearing. In this scenario, most final hearings happen in 4 – 6 months. Variables that can speed up or slow down your case include the accuracy of your documents, failure or success of either party at following the discovery and disclosure procedures, and finally, whether the responsible Judge has an open or full calendar. The final hearing is the last stage of a contested case and typically results in a final order granting the divorce. The scheduling of your final hearing depends on the calendar and availability of the attorneys and, most importantly, the Judge. Fort Bend County utilizes "Court Coordinators" to manage the Court's docket and the scheduling of hearings and trials. The Court Coordinator is vital in family law cases, as they are responsible for getting cases set for hearings and trials (or not).

Again, these are just estimates. Each case is different, and each stage may be longer or shorter, depending on a variety of factors. We hope that our summary will help demystify the divorce process for you. Of course, we're always ready to assist with your mediation or arbitration needs, so don't hesitate to give us a call.

Armatys Millard Is Here to Help!

Walter Armatys and John Millard have significant family law experience, both as trial lawyers and as Family Court Judges. This judicial experience gave Walter and John a keen insight into how Judges think, what persuades them, what annoys them, and, importantly, what information Judges need to make an appropriate ruling. Armatys Millard provides mediation and arbitration services for family law disputes pending in Fort Bend, Harris, and surrounding counties. You can count on our extensive family law experience and judicial wisdom to help successfully resolve your case.


If you need to mediate or arbitrate a divorce, custody dispute, or other family law issue, Armatys Millard, PLLC can help. Check availability and book your session online or call our office at 281-313-6800. We're here to help!

About the Author

John Millard

John Millard recently served as Associate Judge of the 328th District Family Court, Fort Bend County. This experience gave John a keen insight into how Judges think, what persuades them, what annoys them, and, importantly, what information Judges need to make an appropriate ruling. John provides mediation and arbitration services for family law cases pending in Fort Bend, Harris, and surrounding counties. You can count on John's extensive family law experience and judicial wisdom to help successfully resolve your case.


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If you need to mediate or arbitrate a divorce, custody dispute, or other family law issue, Armatys Millard has the experience, knowledge, and judicial wisdom to help.

Schedule online or call our office at 281-313-6800 to check availability and schedule Mediation or Arbitration with the Mediation Judges today!