By Divorce.com staff
Updated Sep 14, 2023
How long does a divorce take in New York state? The short answer is: “It depends.” Is your divorce contested or uncontested? Have you been married for five months or 50 years (or somewhere between the two)?
Are there complex financial issues? Are you involved in a custody battle with your ex? Are you and your ex willing to cooperate and compromise, or are you fighting bitterly over every single possession?
Your answers to those and many other questions will determine how long it takes to get a divorce in New York. Read on to learn whether your divorce is likely to be relatively quick and easy or very slow and difficult.
How Long Does a Divorce Take in New York?
A simple uncontested divorce could take as little as two-to-three months. A contested divorce in New York, on the other hand, could take anywhere from 18 months to two years – although it can take much longer if you and your ex-spouse cannot agree on anything and are determined to fight over every last dish and spoon to the bitter end.
Length Based on the Type of Divorce
When you and your spouse decide to split, you might feel a lot of stress land on your shoulders. You know that you’re strong enough to handle it, but you also know that you don’t want to be stuck in the divorce process forever.
That’s why it’s so common for a divorcing couple to ask: “How long does it take to get a divorce in New York?” before their case even begins.
This is actually a great opportunity to think about timing because you have a decision to make before filing that can have a big impact on the duration of your divorce proceedings: will it be a contested divorce or an uncontested divorce?
If you’re unfamiliar with the difference, we’ll explain.
How Long Does a Contested Divorce Take in NY?
In the state of New York, a contested divorce typically takes about nine months to a year to resolve – although, depending on how many issues are in contention, the complexity of the situation, and the case backlog at your local court, it can drag on for years.
In a contested divorce, you and your spouse disagree on issues like fault vs. no-fault grounds, child support, child custody, spousal support (a.k.a. spousal maintenance or alimony), and/or the division of marital assets and debts.
When spouses are not able to see eye-to-eye on key – or all – issues, they will need to be represented by lawyers. There will be discovery (which is the information-gathering stage of your case), and if your ex isn’t feeling cooperative, they can drag their feet for months before producing the documents necessary to proceed with your case.
Typically, discovery requires disclosure of all financial assets and income, including three-to-five years of bank, investment, pension, and mortgage statements, as well as tax returns.
After your lawyer is satisfied that they’ve received or found everything relevant to your case, they request a court date – which can take more than a year in counties where there is a backlog.
When you finally get to court, each side presents their case and calls experts to testify if necessary, and then the family court judge will make all the decisions for you. (For more details, see this Contested Divorce Flowchart.
How Long Does an Uncontested Divorce Take in NY?
On average, an uncontested divorce in New York – one in which the spouses agree on all divorce-related issues – takes approximately three-to-six months, depending on the county where it is filed.
An uncontested divorce typically saves money as well as time; one party isn’t prolonging the process unnecessarily, and you aren’t paying lawyers to fight over assets that are worth less than the legal fees for your dispute.
In an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse are able to utilize an alternative dispute resolution process – such as Divorce Mediation or Collaborative Divorce – which is designed to help you make your own decisions about your future instead of trusting your future to a judge.
Since an uncontested divorce is much faster than a contested divorce, this is the way to go if you want to expedite your divorce case.
Factors Affecting the Length of Divorce in New York
Once a couple makes the decision to go through with a divorce, they typically want things resolved sooner rather than later.
There are many factors affecting the length of divorce proceedings in New York.
These factors include:
- whether you choose fault or no-fault grounds for divorce;
- whether you are already legally separated;
- whether the divorce involves minor children;
- the number of shared assets that the couple has;
- whether one spouse is financially dependent on the other;
- how long the couple has been married;
- the couple’s willingness and ability to come to a resolution without resorting to litigation in court.
Let’s start with your grounds for divorce.
No-Fault vs. Fault Grounds for Divorce
When you begin the process of seeking a divorce in New York, the filing spouse (also called the plaintiff) has the opportunity to allege fault on the part of the defendant, and then prove it in court.
While a fault divorce may satisfy a spouse, who’s been wronged or even get them the better end of the financial deal in the end, a New York no-fault divorce typically takes dramatically less time and is much easier to prove.
Are You and Your Spouse Already Legally Separated?
If you’re reading this, you may have already googled “legal separation vs divorce New York” and learned all about their respective advantages and disadvantages.
If so, you might also know that couples who choose to get legally separated have to come up with a separation agreement to resolve all of the aforementioned issues typically associated with divorce.
That’s why, if you’re filing for divorce following legal separation, you’re looking at a much more truncated divorce process. After all, all you really need at this point is that divorce decree from your local Supreme Court.
Dispute Resolution Process
When most of us think of a divorce case, we imagine it taking place in court. However, most couples opt for some method other than litigation.
One reason for this is that litigation tends to take much longer and is more expensive than any other method, but the benefits of alternative methods don’t end there.
For one thing, while you are guaranteed confidentiality within the attorney-client relationship, anything that you say or do in court has the potential to become a public record.
If you can work out your differences outside of court, then basically all that will become public record is your divorce certificate itself.
So what are your alternatives?
In order to reach a mutually agreeable settlement, it can be helpful to engage a neutral third party, or mediator, to assist in working through issues by providing dialogue and dispute resolution services.
Divorce mediation is a great step to consider before pursuing a contested divorce because, through mediation, oftentimes couples can come to a resolution on issues and then are able to go forward with an uncontested divorce, saving time and thousands of dollars in legal fees.
In New York, there is a statewide network of nonprofit organizations called Community Dispute Resolution Centers that provide mediation services at low or no cost.
The mediation process in New York typically requires three-multi sessions spread over one to two months. If the divorce case is complicated, the mediation process can take as long as 4 to 5 months.
In a collaborative divorce, a couple who cannot agree on key issues can work through them in a problem-solving process rather than prepare for litigation.
In this process, each spouse is responsible for hiring a New York attorney who is trained in the collaborative divorce process. The couple shares all other members of the collaborative “team” – including a mental health professional (or “divorce coach”) who can step in when emotional issues threaten to derail the process, a financial expert, and a parenting expert.
They can use this process to work through issues such as property distribution, alimony, debt allocation, child custody and visitation, support, etc.
This is a much faster and typically less hostile process than a contested divorce. However, if, for whatever reason, the couple that has tried to collaborate is still not able to resolve issues, they will then have to hire different attorneys than they used for the collaboration and head to trial.
Collaborative divorce in New York, similar to an uncontested divorce, takes approximately 4 to 6 months.
For couples seeking an uncontested divorce, there is always the option of completing the process online.
The New York state courts have an electronic filing system for couples who have worked out all of the key issues and are ready to proceed without attorneys.
Making sure that you select and correctly complete the precise forms for your exact situation can be tricky without the help of an online divorce company like Divorce.com, which takes the headache out of the process and give step-by-step instructions for filing the completed paperwork.
Some online divorces can be resolved in as little as six weeks, while other uncontested divorce cases may take up to three months.
A DIY – aka "Do It Yourself" aka “Kitchen Table” –divorce is a potential dispute resolution process where cooperative spouses are able to sit down together and work out all their divorce-related issues.
A DIY divorce does not require a divorce lawyer – but we recommend having a lawyer review your documents and point out potential pitfalls in your agreement before you submit it. This process could potentially shave months (or even years) off the time required and save you thousands of dollars on legal fees.
As well as saving on time and legal fees, a DIY divorce can help reduce the stress and anger associated with a long, drawn-out court battle.
There are a couple of potential downsides to DIY divorce, however.
First, divorce is complicated, and you can get bogged down in the process as you’ll have to collect all necessary documents as well as deal with unfamiliar issues.
Second, if you don’t fully understand to consequences of what you’re agreeing to, you could be stuck with an unfavorable agreement that could affect you negatively for the rest of your life.
Marital Property Disputes
In New York, there are spousal and child support guidelines and formulas for judges to follow when making their determinations. Dividing up assets, however, can be a lot less cut and dried.
That’s because New York law abides by a model of property division called “equitable distribution.” In this model, the court has a lot of discretion regarding how they divide marital property; they are simply instructed to do their best to come up with a fair plan based on a list of factors inscribed in state law.
Because this process is so uncertain, marital property disputes can be a lot more heated and take a lot longer than they might in other states. If you and your spouse can find a way to mostly agree, you’re in for a much faster divorce.
Child Custody Disputes
As we mentioned above, child support disputes in New York come down to a specific formula that judges can use to make a fair and consistent court order. Child custody, on the other hand, can be a lot messier.
Aside from custody being an extremely emotionally charged topic for most parents, the law is actually a lot more granular than folks who have never been through a divorce might realize.
There are two distinct kinds of custody to work out: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody is about who has the child in their care, and legal custody is about who makes decisions for the child about things like education, medical care, and religion.
Both will need to be resolved before your divorce can be finalized, which in some unfortunate cases, can take quite a bit of time.
Something to keep in mind before you get lost in an endless custody battle: New York courts make custody decisions based on the best interest of the child, and their default assumption is that it’s in the child’s best interest to have significant time with both parents.
Thus, unless your spouse has a history of abusing your kid, you are very unlikely to end up being the sole custodial parent. That means that you’re probably better off staying flexible and working with your spouse to come up with a mutually agreeable plan.
Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce in New York
Is there a waiting period for divorce in New York?
Technically speaking, there is no waiting period for New York divorce. However, if you’re using no-fault grounds for divorce, you have to prove that your marriage has been “irretrievably broken" for at least six months.
How long do you have to be separated before you can file for divorce in New York?
You don’t have to be separated to file for divorce in New York. However, as we mentioned above, no-fault divorce grounds include language about how long you and your spouse have been experiencing marital difficulties before you file (at least six months).
Since no-fault divorce was introduced in 2010, it has become quite extremely rare for a couple to file using fault grounds.
How long does it take for a judge to sign divorce papers in New York?
This all comes down to how full the court’s docket is at the time of your divorce. Most couples can expect to wait at least six months – although this could stretch to a year or more, depending on the jurisdiction.