Men and women often ask what to expect relative to the length of time it will take to complete their divorce. That question is incredibly difficult to answer. The answer depends on a number of factors and the conduct of a number of people. There are two parties, two lawyers, a family law judge, and often times experts involved in the case. If a spouse who does not have a desire to resolve issues, retains a divorce lawyer with the ‘litigate everything mentality,’ the likelihood of a long duration divorce is all but guaranteed. If one party has anger management problems, or a psychological disorder there is a higher likelihood of having a more difficult and time consuming divorce.
On the other hand, if the parties and the attorneys desire to settle a case, are willing to compromise, and see the concept of fairness in a consistent manner, a divorce can be resolved quickly and inexpensively. The vast majority of divorces do not result in contested hearings. The ‘war of the roses’ type of divorce is the rare exception, not the rule.
Some issues are simply more complex or more time consuming than others and may extend the divorce process. For example, a custody contest, domestic violence and business valuation issues may extend the time to complete a divorce. High net worth matters generally involve more assets and more issues, which can result in more time being required to resolve the case. Even with the more difficult issues, a divorce can be settled in a relatively timely manner if the parties conduct themselves in a reasonable manner and retain lawyers who have the desire to solve problems rather than create them.
No two divorces follow the exact same path. Below is an example of a potential sequence of events that may occur in a divorce. The financial condition of our courts and the resulting congestion has caused increased delays in divorces that proceed to trial. It is not uncommon for family law matters to be continued multiple times and it is not uncommon for days in trial to be separated by weeks due to other family law matters pending in the same courtroom.
Potential Sequence of Procedural Events in a Divorce
In 2008, at the direction of the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, the California Judicial Council established the Elkins Family Law Task Force. Mark E. Minyard was appointed by the Judicial Council to serve on the task force along with Appellate Court Justices, Judges, Superior Court executives and other lawyers. Between 2008 and 2010, the task force studied family law and made wide reaching recommendations relative to due process, family law procedures, and citizen access to the divorce courts. The final report was issued in 2010 and can be found at www.courts.ca.gov/documents/elkins-finalreport.pdf.
The task force researched the issues related to the delays in resolving family law matters which had been a matter of serious statewide concern for many years. The task force set guidelines and goals relative to the duration of divorces and concluded that 20% of all family law matters should be resolved within nine months, 75% of all family law matter should be resolved within 18 months, and that 90% of all matters should be resolved within 24 months. These were the GOALS of the task force and not the actual time required to complete divorces statewide. Many of the members of the task force voiced the opinion that these time frames were unrealistically short. The point is that it requires significant time to complete a divorce. In many ways, a divorce transaction is quite similar to the division of a partnership or a business. Even a straight forward “simple” divorce is rarely as simple as non-lawyers believe it will be. The procedures established by the legislature must be followed carefully to avoid a set aside of the divorce judgment at a later date. The procedures can be cumbersome and time consuming. The last thing a person wants is to go through the process twice.
The objective of the lawyers at Minyard Morris is to complete their client’s divorces, in substantially less time than the goals established by the Elkins Family Law Task Force. In many cases, the conduct of our clients can greatly reduce or extend the amount of time required to complete the divorce process. Our client’s timely assistance relative to a number of issues can assist us in accomplishing our objective. Obviously, as a general rule, divorces that are resolved in less time generate lower overall attorney’s fees.
California family law statutes require each party to prepare a Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure and a Final Declaration of Disclosure. Until these disclosures are completed a family law judgment cannot be submitted to the divorce court. In other words, even if a matter is settled and a judgment is signed by the parties and the attorneys, the matter cannot be entered as a final divorce judgment. The divorce court will reject any judgment that is submitted prior to the completion of the disclosures. Parties are usually anxious to have their divorce cases resolved as quickly as possible but often fail to assist their lawyers in completing the disclosures in an expedited manner. A lawyer cannot prepare these disclosures without the client’s assistance and cooperation. The disclosures require the attachment of certain documents that only the client can obtain. There are times when the finalizing of the divorce is delayed for many months as a direct result of the client’s failure to make the completion of the disclosures a top priority. Lawyers and clients working together can expedite the process and minimize the time necessary to complete the divorce transaction.