Marriage is more than a relationship between two people. It’s also a financial institution and binding legal contract. This means that when people wish to end their marriage, they must file divorce papers with a court. A judge will decide whether to grant the divorce and will help divide up any property that the couple has not already divided between themselves.

Some divorces are relatively simple. If the couple can come to an agreement on who gets what property, they can file for a simple divorce. In many cases this can be completed without ever appearing at court. They simply file the paperwork and are divorced within 30 days. Not all divorces go this smoothly, however, and a contested divorce can take substantially longer to complete.

What is a Contested Divorce?

There are two ways that a divorce can be contested:

1.) The divorce itself is contested. One party may not believe that there are substantial grounds for a divorce or that they can work through their differences without divorce. In this situation, they may be trying to keep the relationship together or may dispute evidence presented against them.

2.) The couple cannot degree on elements of the divorce. More commonly, the couple undergoing the divorce cannot come to an agreement regarding how the property or debt should be divided or how child custody should be handled.

In either case, a contested divorce must be subject to a court hearing so that the issues can be dealt with. Because the contested divorce may take some time before it’s finalized, the court may also determine temporary orders. For example, the children may temporarily live in the custody of one parent with weekly visitation rights from the other; after the divorce is finalized, these arrangements may change substantially.

Custody is the primary reason why many people may contest a divorce. Marriages with substantial combined debt or assets may also require more work to resolve. In some cases, a person may contest the divorce in order to receive a higher alimony payment or to attempt to get out of needing to pay high alimony or child support fees.

What Happens While the Divorce is Pending?

While the divorce is pending, the couple may need to pursue divorce counseling or take part in other programs, especially if there are children involved. They may also need to attend numerous court hearings before a final decision is reached regarding custody and any other issues. A parenting plan may be made in order to detail how important parenting choices will be made both during and after the divorce. The parents must also be prepared for the realities of divorce and ready themselves for the financial and emotional consequences.

During this time, the attorneys may also need to obtain information from the other spouse. This could include financial records such as tax statements, credit card bills, spending records or any other paperwork necessary to sort out the couple’s financial status. The attorney will also need to gather information to augment the case for custody. This may include witness statements and various forms of documentation.

Most couples live separately during these proceedings. In many cases, couples will have been separated for a very long time before a divorce is granted, potentially even before filing for the divorce at all. Most courts will not grant a divorce unless the couple has been living separately for over a year. Many people will consider themselves to be no longer married at this time, despite legally being married until the divorce is finalized.

How Long Does a Contested Divorce Take?

There is no simple answer to how long any divorce will take. As a rule, the more complex the situation, the longer it may take. Couples may have heated battles over property and children before the divorce is finalized. In some situations, a contested divorce could take several years to finalize, although this is not the norm.

In most cases, the shortest time to get even an uncontested divorce is between one to two months. The length of a contested divorce will depend on the quality of the attorney, what is being contested and how likely the other person is to negotiate.

The best solution is to pursue a simple divorce whenever possible. By communicating civilly with your ex and striving to come to a solution to your disagreements, you can save both of you a lot of time and money throughout the divorce. Whenever this is impossible, a qualified divorce lawyer is a wise investment.