Why is my divorce taking so long?

Patience

Divorce taking too long!

Technology has created monsters with no patience.  Just yesterday, at a Stop Sign, a woman no younger than 90! flipped me the bird, because I was trying to parallel park.  The light in front of me was red.  “You’re taking too f’cking long!” she growled at me.  Ok – so I am an Asian driver and my skills at parallel parking are next to none – but still, it was RED light!  And she is 90!  Why is she rushing me?

Then, I go to the grocery store, and I hear two (2) grumpy pregnant women complaining about being 38 weeks pregnant – who, after using IVF because they couldn’t naturally conceive in a year, are 8 months pregnant, and are announcing they will “schedule a C-section” so the baby is out as soon as possible.  (it’s a 40+ week conception, gals – it’s better for baby to bake longer).  SMH.  Revel in the joy of pregnancy, dear women.  Your kids will be in college before you know.

Anyway, the point of this post is that yes, patience should be practiced more.  Even in your divorce.  But if you find that your lawyer is sitting on your case (while he is Cabo), or you cannot reach them for 6 months, it is time to take some action.

Next to “How much will my divorce cost?” – I get this question the most.  WHY is my divorce taking so long?  

If you have already submitted a Stipulation for Judgment, the answer is that it is probably waiting on a stack of papers a mile high at the clerk’s office waiting for the Judge’s signature.  This is normal.

However, it could also be any of these other reasons.

  1.  Mandatory 6-month waiting period.  If your final divorce papers (Judgment) have been submitted, you still have to wait the mandatory 6-month period before a Judgment will be entered.  This is the Legislature’s big brother way of making sure you guys explore any hope of reconciliation before allowing you to divorce.  Sometimes, if your papers are perfect, and the Judge is on top of the ball, you may get your divorce Judgment back, with your divorce date stamped out in the FUTURE.  (I just got on this month, with a divorce date of 3/31/2016!)  If so, you just wait it out, and on that date, you are magically divorced.

2. You have a reason to delay prosecution.  Perhaps you need health insurance.  Perhaps it’s better for your children.  Perhaps you are receiving temporary support at a higher figure than it would be a Judgment.  A lot of family law is tactical – sometimes, it may be better for you to continue with the interim orders.  If so, you and your attorney have discussed this, and it’s better to wait.   I had a case where I represented the lower-earning “out-spouse” in a relatively short-term marriage of 4 years.  In-spouse was an pretty high W-2 earner, and we got a support order.  She was not represented very aggressively, the temporary order (which lasts until the next order), went on for 6 years!  The spousal support would likely not have lasted 6 years.  More than likely, would have ended in half the length of the marriage (2 years) had her counsel been more on top of it.  Of course, if you are the one paying support pursuant to a temporary order, let this post alert you to DO something, without delay.

3.Discovery.  If there are a lot of assets (and debts), it will take a long time for paperwork to be compiled, and forensics to go through 300 boxes, and create their magical reports.  If your case involves a lot of assets and no other issues, I will bet $500 this is the reason.   Also, responding to dozens of document requests require a lot of time.  This is where you SHOULD hire a forensic.  Attorneys are really not in the business of knowing how to analyze businesses and spreadsheets – some get it! But mostly, we work with very competent numbers-people who help us.  We ten take these magical reports and base our arguments on them.  THAT’s our job.  WE argue.  and love it.  (At least, I do).

4.  Lawyers or parties or court schedules.  If your case in on track to settle (as 99% of family law cases do); and it’s taking a long time – it could be because you are dealing with busy people’s schedules.  It may take time to review the discovery in #3.  Or if you are getting in to get a temporary order, you may find the earliest date you can get to see the Judge is 3 months out (totally normal).  Sometimes, as the court date gets closer, you may find the Judge continuing your case because his courtroom is dark that day (Judge is unavailable due to illness, or vacation, etc).   Perhaps it is essential to depose the in-spouse, but due to her hectic schedule, she is in China, Russia, Australia, and the next available date is 10 months out, but that is when your own attorney in on vacation.  You cannot proceed until you depose her.   In any case, litigation is not a fast death.  It’s a slow slow death.

5.  There is another pending case related to your case and the issues in that case must be resolved first.  For example, perhaps your spouse fraudulently conveyed real estate.  Perhaps you decide to sue your spouse in civil court for this.  In order to property divide your assets, you will need the Judge in the civil case to rule on whether or not the transfer was fraudulent, and what damages were suffered.  Perhaps your spouse gave you a STD, and sued you in civil court for assault and battery.  Your divorce case will take a back seat until the assault and battery case is resolved, so the damages that need to be paid can come from the estate.

6.  Technical difficulties, such as:  The Court lost your file.  Or the court reporter cannot find the transcript.  I had a case where Dept. 88 lost my client’s file.  We had a TRIAL set and it was continued 5 times until the file magically showed up.  2 years later.  TRUE STORY.

7.  Speaking of trial – you ain’t going anywhere for at least 2 years.  If you have a case fraught with issues: child custody, child support, spousal support, and division of lots of assets, you will find yourself working with several experts’ schedules in order to complete their work, in order for your attorney to work themselves up ready for trial.  If the case is ready for trial, you will still need to jump through hoops – sometimes the Court orders mandatory settlement conferences (twice, thrice, as many times as it takes!!!) before they will set your case for trial.  Sometimes the court will continue your trial case out because a matter of priority (such as a DV) gets placed the date of your trial.

In other words, my friends – there are a zillion and one (or at least 7 I mentioned) reasons that your divorce case isn’t going as fast as you want it to.

OR, it could be your divorce lawyer.  I have many a client come to me after their prior lawyers did absolutely nothing but take their $5,000 retainer and run.  In which case, please consider getting a new lawyer.

If you are already moved on, and wish to remarry, you need not let the issues delay your single status.  You can request your attorney to file a Motion to Bifurcate the case on the issue of status.  If the waiting period has been met, and all the requirements are met to protect your spouse and all the retirement and health insurance and other benefits, then your motion shall be granted, and you can be single before all the issues are resolved.

I also want to end this post by encouraging alternate consensual methods of resolution – such as mediation and collaborative law!!!  You can set your own schedules, and many times, you will get a divorce faster – and be happier with the result.  Trust me.

Finally, remember to “Honor the space between no longer and not yet.”  Take the appropriate time to heal and to move on.

Honor the Space

 


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Kelly Chang Rickert

Kelly Chang Rickert (formerly Kelly Yi-Yi Chang) is the founder of the Law Offices of Kelly Chang, A Professional Law Corporation, a firm dedicated exclusively to Family Law. She has been certified by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist. She is frequently quoted in the media, and is a legal expert for Style Network, TV Guide and MTV on Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods, Britney Spears, Christie Brinkley and Madonna divorce and custody cases.

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