The decision to get a divorce is a personal and significant decision, typically made after much thought and consideration over a long period of time. However, once made, the spouse seeking a divorce typically wants the legal process to begin and end as quickly as possible. They often wonder, ‘how long will this take?’
The length of the divorce process in Utah varies greatly from case to case. Utah, like all other states, allows for ‘no-fault’ divorces (i.e., granted on the basis of “irreconcilable differences”). Although the parties do not need to spend time proving fault, there are often many other time-consuming issues that must be addressed before a divorce is finalized. A final divorce decree does more than declare that the parties’ marriage is severed- it also separates specific property, assets, debts, retirement accounts, pets, etc., and instructs regarding custody, child support, and other child-care matters (if there are minor children). In general, the process usually takes longer than expected. Additionally, Utah (like several other states) has a mandatory waiting period before a divorce may be finalized, which gives parties a little extra time to make sure that a divorce is desired.
Sometimes the parties are able to stipulate to all relevant divorce terms at the beginning of the divorce process. This is rare, but under the right circumstances, I have seen success, to my clients’ delight. Through early settlement, both parties are able to significantly save time, money, and headache in comparison to that which is typically experienced in a contested divorce.
Another type of short divorce case is one in which the party who did not file the petition for divorce elects to not contest the petition, and signs an “Acceptance of Service, Appearance, Consent and Waiver” document. The party who files the petition (the “petitioner”) should include this document in their initial divorce papers served upon the other party, to create this option.
Additionally, if the other party is served with the divorce papers, but fails to respond within the required time (21 days if the other party resides in Utah, or 30 days if the other party resides in another state), a default decree could be entered in the petitioner’s favor. (However, default judgments can usually be overturned, at least within the first 90 days.)
Under one of the above circumstances, a Utah divorce case could take as little as 30 days, plus time to prepare the divorce documents, and time for the court to review them*. In Utah, there is a mandatory waiting period of 30 days from the filing of the petition, before a court may sign a decree of divorce (see Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-18.) (Of note, the waiting period used to be 90 days, but was changed to 30 in the year 2018.) On rare occasions, courts will grant a divorce in even less than 30 days, if “extraordinary circumstances exist.” Id.
*If the divorcing parties share minor children together, they must also attend mandatory divorce orientation and educational courses before their divorce may be finalized. (See Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-11.3 and 11.4.) Under certain circumstances, a court might waive this requirement. (See § 30-3-4(1)(c).)
“Long” cases might take five years or even more, although it is rare. Some are appealed to a higher court. And some come back to court even after the divorce is ‘finalized.’ The parties might return for alleged violations of the divorce decree, or otherwise to request that the decree be modified based upon material and substantial changes in circumstances.
The length of most divorce cases is somewhere in between the extreme examples mentioned above. A good amount even finish within a year.
Notably, the Utah legislature recently reduced the standard fact discovery period in contested divorce cases from 180 days to 90 days, which will help to shorten the divorce process. (Effective Nov. 1, 2021; see U. R. Civ. P. 26(c)(5).)
The legislature also recently amended divorce procedures so that each contested case is assigned to one of three “track”s, depending on the complexity of the issues. The simplest cases will be certified directly for trial, with parties ordered to first participate in mediation to attempt to resolve all issues. More complex cases will be given more time for discovery before mediation is ordered or trial is scheduled. (See U. R. Civ. P. 100A.)
Although some cases take many months or even years before a final decree of divorce is entered, some parties are able to obtain a “bifurcation.” This is where an order is entered which severs the marriage (allowing the parties to remarry), but all other issues are preserved for a second, final order to be entered at a later point in time.
Factors Affecting Length of Time
It is impossible to know with certainty how long a divorce case will take before it begins. There are a lot of factors that play into the length of time of any given case, many of which are outside of the control of the divorce-seeking party. These factors include, but are not limited to, whether—
- the parties are willing to stipulate to divorce terms at the onset;
- the other party contests the divorce;
- a prenuptial agreement was signed before the marriage;
- the other party cannot be found and served through traditional means, and/or avoids service;
- the other party desires to draw out the process;
- a party and/or their attorney say or file something that deeply offends or ‘fires up’ the other party;
- there are minor children;
- a custody evaluation is conducted;
- there is a good amount of property/assets at issue;
- there is a good amount of debt at issue;
- one or both parties have retirement and/or investment account(s);
- one or both parties own interest(s) in business(es);
- a business valuation is conducted;
- mediation is/is not successful;
- one of the parties appeals a Court’s decision;
- and so on.
Give us a Call Today
Each person’s situation is unique, and involves a unique set of factors that could affect the timing of a divorce case. These factors should also influence your and your attorney’s case strategy. If you have additional questions about Utah divorces, please contact Skoubye Nielson & Johansen and ask to schedule an appointment with Tatiana Quinn. I can also be reached directly at (801) 365-1020, or firstname.lastname@example.org.