I’ve written about how long it takes to get a divorce and our findings that there is a great time difference between those couples who start with settlement and those who start with litigation. Both groups settled their issues, as do the vast majority of divorce cases, but still they experienced significantly different time frames in doing so. On average it took 6-18 months longer for the second group. Why?
When you begin in the litigation process, a lot of things are out of your control. Certain deadlines are automatic and they shift the focus from settlement to procedural matters.
Also, the lawyers, judges and courthouse staff are handling a lot of cases. More than 46,000 divorces were filed in Georgia in 2013. The pace slowed to 43,865 cases in 2014, but that does not change the reality that on average our 200± superior court judges each has about 2,000 pending cases at any given moment. Those include divorces, business disputes, criminal trials, and many other types of lawsuits.
Your assigned judge will give you as much time as possible, but you can understand why that might not seem like enough time to you. I’ve been in courtrooms where the judge was scheduled to hear 50 or 60 cases that day. The litigation system works, but it might not work as fast as you’d like or as fast as you need. And you definitely might not like the amount of time that your lawyer or your judge can devote to your case.
Often, one side derives a big benefit from stalling and delaying the process.
If you are involved in the litigation system, your timeline will be shaped by:
*Which judge is assigned to your case and how successfully that judge manages his/her caseload. Every judge handles their workflow differently, some more efficiently than others. I once heard a newly appointed judge state that she had “inherited” approximately 3,000 old cases from the prior judge.
*Whether your jurisdiction has enough judges. If yours doesn’t, you can expect major delays. In one county where I practice, the judges regularly stayed on the bench hearing cases until 8:00 p.m. just trying to keep up.
*Whether one or both of you have lawyers, which lawyers you’ve chosen, and how successfully those lawyers manage their caseloads. If the lawyer is overloaded, some cases will fall to the bottom of the priority list and receive less timely attention. And every lawyer has their own personal style that can make things happen quickly or slow things down. If the lawyers are unable to work well together on scheduling, the process will drag.
*Whether the preferred timing for both of you is aligned. Often, one side derives a big benefit from stalling and delaying the process. Or one side is not willing to allow time to explore settlement.
*How much litigation is conducted. Obviously, the more litigation, the longer the timeline. If there are hearings for emergencies, temporary issues, discovery disputes, contempt, it will take much longer. Ditto if depositions are conducted or if other professionals are involved. All involve coordinating schedules of multiple busy people and that fact alone can cause months of delay.
*The time of year. Like most other places of business, courthouses and lawyers offices tend to slow down at certain times of the year, especially during the holidays.
It’s easy to see why starting your case within the litigation process can add 18 months or more to your divorce.