Great question. Here is the best concise answer I can give you.
Most divorce cases settle. Many divorce cases that do settle were settled badly. Some bad settlements are the result of a party running out of money, willpower, or both. That’s understandable. I don’t have the statistics for how long it takes on average for a divorce case to settle, but it’s likely less time than it takes for contested divorces that go to trial.
So how long should a contested divorce action take? And how long do contested divorce action actually take?
The Utah Rules of Civil Procedure govern most of the issues of the time it takes for a divorce case from the point of filing the petition for divorce to the issuance of the Decree of Divorce by the court. Other rules, including those in the Utah Code of Judicial Administration govern as well. With this in mind, we will review how long a divorce action should take in Utah (notice I stated “should”) by reviewing the applicable rules:
1. Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 3. File a petition or complaint for divorce with the court.
Whether you prepare your own complaint or petitioner to file with the court or hire an attorney to represent you and prepare the pleadings for you, let’s assume that takes 4 weeks, on average.
Subtotal: 28 days
2. Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4. Get the respondent (the opposing party from whom you are seeking a divorce) served with a summons and copy of the complaint or petition for divorce. They must be served no later than 120 days after the complaint is filed, unless the court orders a different period under Rule 6. If the summons and complaint are not timely served, the action against the unserved defendant may be dismissed without prejudice on motion of any party or on the court’s own initiative.
*Getting the opposing party served doesn’t usually take very long and is often accomplished within just a few days of the filing of the petition or complaint for divorce. But sometimes a spouse cannot be found or tries to avoid getting served, which can add weeks or months to the divorce process. If, despite the petitioner’s due diligence, his/her spouse’s whereabouts cannot be determined or the spouse keeps evading effort to get him/her personally served, the divorce case isn’t thwarted. Knowing that these kinds of situations can and will arise, Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4(d)(5) was created to permit a motion to be filed seeking to allow service by some other means. If the motion is granted, the court will order service of the complaint and summons by means reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise the named parties of the action.
So let’s assume that it takes 10 days to get your spouse served.
Subtotal: 38 days
3. Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 12. The respondent must serve an answer within 21 days after the service of the summons and complaint is complete within the state and within 30 days after service of the summons and complaint is complete outside the state. The petitioner must serve an answer to a counterclaim in the answer within 21 days after service of the answer.
Let’s assume that your spouse waits until the last day to serve his/her answer AND let’s assume that your spouse files a counterclaim that you wait until the last day to serve your answer to the counterclaim. So, 42 days.
Subtotal: 80 days
4. Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 26.1. The parties are required to serve each other with their respective initial disclosures and financial declarations within 14 days after filing of the first answer to the complaint.
Subtotal: 94 days
5. Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 26. The days to complete standard fact discovery are calculated from the date the first defendant’s first disclosure is due and do not include expert discovery under paragraphs 26(a)(4)(C) and (D).
Days to Complete Standard Fact Discovery: 90
Total Fact Deposition Hours: 4
Rule 33 Interrogatories including all discrete subparts: 10
Rule 34 Requests for Production: 10
Rule 36 Requests for Admission: 10
Note: it is fairly standard practice for the parties either to agree to extend the discovery period beyond 90 days or for a party to request an order from the court permitting the extension of discovery beyond 90 days.
Let’s assume that discovery does not close until after 150 days.
Subtotal: 244 days
6. Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 16. Unless an order sets the trial date, any party may and the plaintiff shall, at the close of all discovery, certify to the court that discovery is complete, that any required mediation or other ADR processes have been completed or excused and that the case is ready for trial. The court shall schedule the trial as soon as mutually convenient to the court and parties. The court shall notify the parties of the trial date and of any final pretrial conference. “ADR” means Alternative Dispute Resolution. Utah Code § 30-3-39 requires that the parties participate in at least one mediation session before the case can be certified as ready for trial and set for trial.
Utah Code § 30-3-39. Mediation program.
(1) There is established a mandatory domestic mediation program to help reduce the time and tensions associated with obtaining a divorce.
(2) If, after the filing of an answer to a complaint of divorce, there are any remaining contested issues, the parties shall participate in good faith in at least one session of mediation. This requirement does not preclude the entry of pretrial orders before mediation takes place.
(3) The parties shall use a mediator qualified to mediate domestic disputes under criteria established by the Judicial Council in accordance with Section 78B-6-205.
(4) Unless otherwise ordered by the court or the parties agree upon a different payment arrangement, the cost of mediation shall be divided equally between the parties.
(5) The director of dispute resolution programs for the courts, the court, or the mediator may excuse either party from the requirement to mediate for good cause.
(6) Mediation shall be conducted in accordance with the Utah Rules of Court-Annexed Alternative Dispute Resolution.
How long does it take to get a trial date set after one has certified the case as ready for trial? Currently (as of the date this post is written), about 8 months. Let’s be optimistic and use 6 months for our purposes in this blog post.
Subtotal: 484 days
7. Trial takes place.
Trial usually takes 3 to 5 days, but can take as little as half a day or several weeks. We’ll use 5 days for our purposes.
Subtotal: 489 days
8. Utah Code § 78A-2-223 (Decisions to be rendered within 2 months—Procedures for decisions not rendered).
§ 78A-2-223. Decisions to be rendered within two months–Procedures for decisions not rendered
(1) A trial court judge shall decide all matters submitted for final determination within two months of submission, unless circumstances causing the delay are beyond the judge’s personal control.
(2) The Judicial Council shall establish reporting procedures for all matters not decided within two months of final submission.
The court usually does not take the full 60-61 days to decide the case, but I’ve experienced delays of more than 60 days on several occasions over the course of my career. I would say the court usually issues its decision within 30 to 45 days. So, let’s use an average of 30 and 45 days, i.e., 38 days.
Subtotal: 527 days. So one year, 5 months, 10 days.
A contested divorce case takes about 1 to 2 years to complete.
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