For many spouses, the process between filing the divorce complaint and receiving the decree is an exercise in patience. You’ve moved out, opened separate bank accounts, and likely spent many hours looking for and giving your divorce lawyer all of your financial information but you’re still not divorced. A lot of spouses get very frustrated after having done so much work to only feel like they’re still in the same place.
There are a few reasons why a divorce cannot be granted instantly. The first reason is because Pennsylvania does not allow that to occur, even in the most amicable situations. Even if the only thing you and your spouse seek is the piece of paper saying you’re no longer married, you have to wait at least 90 days before you will receive that decree in the mail. This waiting period cannot be shortened, waived, or removed for any reason.
Most spouses who hire a lawyer for their divorce though need more assistance than merely receiving a divorce decree. The most common situation is that the couple has marital property which must be divided. This requires gathering and exchanging documents. At the beginning of a divorce case, I always instruct my clients to begin obtaining financial records that we will need to divide the marital property. The vast majority of this information is not something your lawyer has immediate access to, and you do not want to pay your lawyer to obtain it if it’s already in your possession. Depending on what your financial picture consists of, it can take awhile before you have everything ready. For this reason, when you formally request to exchange documents with your spouse using the court process, the other person is given 30 days to respond.
After a couple exchanges financial information, everything you provided has to be reviewed by your lawyer and only then can you discuss what an equitable division of the marital estate may be. Although you will see settlement proposals sent before this investigation happens, this is often not a good practice because you may feel differently about a given proposal after seeing what assets the other spouse has. Taking the time to thoroughly review what you worked hard to gather ultimately ensures that nobody can come back years later and say they had no idea what property they even had.
Finally, the factor that often gets overlooked in the length of a divorce proceeding is that so much of the process is outside your individual control. A spouse cannot control the court’s calendar, mandatory waiting periods set by statute, the amount of time a spouse is legally entitled to to respond to requests. You also cannot control whether the court is understaffed and hasn’t processed your documents, or whether your spouse will work quickly to finish the divorce. With few exceptions, your lawyer has no more control over these factors than you do. You can, however, ensure that you are doing what you can to handle everything quickly by being organized and looking for requested documents as soon as you’re asked.
The divorce process is never quick or immediate. But if you are ever concerned about the amount of time it is taking, you can always ask your lawyer about whether the amount of time is normal or typical. He or she will have the experience to know whether your case is taking a particularly long period of time. In our office, we proactively tell our clients if the court has a large backlog which is creating longer delays. The important thing to remember is that if you ultimately want to dissolve the marriage, you will be divorced at some point. It is only a matter of “when.”