Divorce Waiting Period: Information

Now that I've filed for divorce, how long do I have to wait before it is finalized?

There is no simple answer to that question but in general it usually takes longer than you want it to take. Under normal circumstances, you should be prepared for a process that will last six to eighteen months. In certain circumstances it can be done in less than six months and it is possible to take longer than eighteen months.

A court cannot grant a divorce until 60 days after the suit for divorce was filed and until 20 days after the respondent was properly served. This means a court may grant a divorce on day 61 after a divorce is filed but in reality that rarely happens. For it to happen on the 61st day after a divorce is filed requires either an agreement between the parties or that the petitioner (the person filing the suit for divorce) has given proper notice to the respondent (the person responding or replying to the suit for divorce) and the respondent has not filed an answer or response to the suit for divorce within the allotted answer period. This is called a default or no-answer divorce.

An agreement between the parties exists when both parties have agreed on how to settle all the issues with their divorce (the conservatorship of the children, who will have primary custody of the children, the duties and rights of each parent, who will pay child support and medical support for the children and how much that support will be, how the property will be divided, and any other issues that arise). A written Final Decree of Divorce will have been signed by both parties and is ready to be presented to the court for a prove-up and the judge's signature. Although it is possible for this to happen in rare circumstances, it does not happen often. Most often, when a divorce is granted on day 61 it is because the respondent has failed to respond to the suit after proper notice.

There are two instances under which the 60-day waiting period is not required. Both instances occur when family violence is involved. First, the 60-day waiting period is not required when the respondent has been convicted of (or received deferred adjudication for) an offense involving family violence against the petitioner or a member of the petitioner's household. Second, the 60-day waiting period is not required when the petitioner has an active protective order, based upon a finding of family violence, against the respondent because of family violence committed during the marriage.

The 60-day waiting period does not apply when a person seeks to have the marriage annulled or to have the court declare the marriage void.

I gave my soon-to-be ex a copy of the divorce papers, isn't that enough notice?

No. The petitioner has given the respondent proper notice only when the respondent is "served" or after the respondent files a waiver of service to notify the court that they have received a copy of the suit for divorce.

A respondent is served when a copy of the suit for divorce along with citation (a summons to appear or answer to the court) is served or officially provided to the respondent by an independent person (usually a constable, sheriff or a process server) and the person serving the respondent the copy of the lawsuit and citation notifies the court that the respondent has been served or that the official notice has been provided.

A waiver of service is a signed, notarized document the respondent provides to the court to officially inform the court that the respondent is aware of the filing of the suit for divorce, that they have received a copy of the suit for divorce and that they waive the requirement to be served with a copy of the suit for divorce by a process server.

I got my soon-to-be ex served properly on day 50. Can I get the divorce finalized on day 61?

No. There are two waiting periods that must be completed before you can get a default or no-answer divorce finalized. In addition to the above mentioned 60-day waiting period, there is an answer period after a person has been properly served. Once a person has been properly served they have until 10:00 a.m. on the Monday following 20 days after they were served to answer or respond to the suit for divorce. To calculate that time, count 20 days beginning with the day after a person was served (weekends do count) and then go to the following Monday.

The required 60-day waiting period and the respondent's approximately 20- day answer period often run at the same time but both waiting periods must be completed before a default or no-answer divorce can be finalized. If an answer or response is filed within that waiting period or after the waiting period but before the divorce is finalized, then a default or no-answer divorce will not be granted.

It is important to follow all of the steps for completing the divorce process properly. Although the process can, in rare circumstances, be completed in 61 days, you should be mentally prepared for the process to take much longer than that. If you have been served with a petition for divorce or if you are going to file a petition for divorce, please contact the Knapp Law Firm, PLLC to discuss how we can assist you through this process.