How long will my family law case take?

A common question that I hear in my office is, “how long will my case take?”  The unfortunate answer to this is that it varies.

In Missouri, there is a waiting period of 30 days after filing for divorce.  Most, if not all, counties have a local rule requiring 30 days after service.  Therefore, the quickest that a divorce can be done is on the 31st day following service of process.  Unfortunately, many are not done within that amount of time.

In St. Charles County, all family law cases go on what’s called a “case management conference” docket.  These are typically scheduled approximately 90 days after the filing of the case and can usually be handled by the attorneys if you are represented.  The purpose of this docket is to make sure that cases are always on some type of court docket so that they can be moved along efficiently.  At the Case Management Conference, the Court will typically set the case for trial.  Trial dates can take several months.

Why does the family law case take so long?  The harsh reality is that there is a combination of factors that can lead to a case taking way too long.  The goal is to get all family law cases disposed of within a year of the date of filing, which in itself sounds way too long for people who are going through these stressful types of cases.  Unfortunately, many cases do not wind up being disposed of during this time frame.  Court dockets are often over crowded, and Judges are trying to handle multiple cases on one day.  Sometimes this results in only one case being tried while the others are bumped to wait for the next court date they can get.  Also, attorneys and judges are people too, which means illness happens, family deaths happen, etc.

Often times, the parties to the case are the reason the case lasts too long.  For example, if a wife becomes pregnant in the midst of a divorce, the court has to wait until the child is born to dispose of the case.  This is true even if everyone agrees that the child is not the child of the husband.  This situation happens surprisingly often as people tend to move on with their lives while they wait for their divorce to be finalized.

So, in summary, the answer to the question, “how long will my case take?” is…it depends.  Some are disposed of very quickly, but the more contentious the case, the longer it is likely to take.