How Long Will A Divorce Take

A common question a family law attorney will get is how long will a divorce take to be completed.  I wish I could give you a definite answer, but there are simply too many variables in a contested divorce case.

Much will depend on the type of process you are utilizing to resolve your divorce.  A collaborative process can come to a conclusion in as little as two or three months because it is a very rational and deliberate process.  You can read more about collaborative law on this site, at the South Carolina Collaborative Law Institute (, or the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (  One of the features that clients like best about collaborative practice is that clients are in control of the process and thus the time frame.

A contested, or litigated, case in the Family Court is a much different story.  I was recently in the Berkeley County Family Court for a pre-trial scheduling conference, and was informed that there are presently NO trial dates available in Berkeley.  We could wait 18 months to 2 years to get that case to trial. (The good news is that the parties are going to mediation soon and we expect that their case will be resolved at that time).

One of the reasons for this is the sheer volume of cases and lack of court time.  South Carolina has an extremely high volume of cases per judge, one of the highest in the country.  This means that the scheduling of any hearing longer than about one day is very difficult.  (Most divorce cases can reasonably take 3-5 days to be heard by the trial judge.)  Another reason is that the discovery rules do not lend themselves to a quick and efficient administration of justice.  Discovery often yields huge volumes of information that takes time to gather, sort, organize, and analyze. The more complex the case, the more information is subject to discovery, which adds more time. Often, experts are utilized who require more time to review and analyze the data and then prepare for trial.  Finally, the court rules for the conduct of the trial itself result in a very deliberate, and SLOW, process for the trial of the case.

At any time during the litigation the case can settle by agreement or in mediation.  In fact, mediation is required in all family court cases prior to requesting a final hearing.  This is because mediation will resolve most cases.  However, mediation generally will not occur until after an exchange of information, i.e. formal discovery or an informal exchange of information.

The bottom line is that if you are in a collaborative case, you will know how long the case will take to resolve. In a contested (litigated) case, you can expect anywhere from 9 months to 2 years, depending on the complexity of your case and whether you go to trial or settle the case in mediation or by agreement.

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