Choosing to obtain a divorce is generally not an easy decision to make. The law is designed to ensure the parties seeking a divorce have carefully considered their decision and a just outcome is reached. This is done by requiring various waiting periods throughout the procedure. The court will even impose additional waiting periods to allow opposing parties to respond and for the court to hear the matters. The following is a typical timeline of what will happen and when it will happen.
Filing for Divorce (Minimum 60 Days Residency by One Spouse)
Divorce proceedings begin when a petition is filed with the court requesting that the marriage be dissolved. A spouse can file a petition anytime after the marriage, there is no minimum amount of time a couple must be married before filing. Although, there are certain factors to consider when the couple is ending a marriage that has lasted less than a year. First, some courts may consider an annulment, if allowed by law, which generally moves faster than a divorce. However, an annulment must be supported by a reason to invalidate the marriage, such as fraud by one of the spouses. This means that while every marriage may be ended by divorce, not all marriages can be annulled. Second, under Kansas state law, at least one of the spouses must have been a resident of Kansas for at least 60 days prior to filing the petition with the court. The spouse filing the petition does not need to be the spouse that has been a resident of Kansas for at least 60 days.
Service & Response (1-4 Weeks)
After a petition is filed with the court, a copy of the petition must be served to the other spouse. Service of the petition provides notice to the other spouse that the divorce proceeding has begun. This service can be done numerous ways, such as sending the petition by certified mail or paying the sheriff’s department to personally serve the spouse. The filing spouse is required to provide the court with proof of service. The non-filing spouse will have 20 days after service to file an answer disputing any factual allegation made in the petition. If the non-filing spouse fails to file before the deadline, all the factual allegations are considered admitted and agreed upon.
Cooling Down Period & Discovery (60+ Days from Filing)
Unless there exists an emergency or unusual circumstance, the court will set a hearing at least 60 days from the date the petition was filed. This 60-day period is known as the “cooling down” period. The period will likely be longer than 60 days if one spouse is not represented by an attorney because a court hearing will be required to finalize the divorce. Court dockets are typically backlogged, and spouses will have to wait for their case to be scheduled by the court. On the other hand, if both spouses are represented by an attorney, have worked out a settlement agreement, and submit it to the court for review, a court hearing is not mandatory. The judge will be able to sign the divorce decree without hearing any testimony from either spouse. It is difficult to predict how much longer than the mandatory 60 days this part of the divorce proceeding may take. This period of waiting gives the spouses an opportunity to work through their attorneys to settle the terms of their divorce. However, how this time is spent greatly depends on whether the divorce is contested or uncontested.
In an uncontested divorce, the spouses agree to the facts alleged in the petition, and, generally, can use the time to finalize terms of a settlement agreement and the divorce decree. These terms may include the amount of maintenance (alimony), child custody, child support amounts, and property division. On the other hand, in a contested divorce, the spouses disagree to the facts alleged in the petition. The first step in a contested divorce is to determine which facts are disputed. Next, discovery is conduct by both spouses. Discovery may be done through interrogatories (written question that are answered under oath), requests for production of documents, and dispositions (live questioning similar to testifying at trial).
First Court Appearance
After the cooling down period, the next step in the divorce proceeding is the first court appearance. If the divorce was and remained uncontested, the spouses reached a full agreement, and both spouses are represented by attorneys, then a hearing will generally not be necessary. However, a disposition hearing will be scheduled to finalize the divorce if one of the spouses is not represented by an attorney. If there are contested issues and the divorce is not finalized, a status conference will need to be attended by the spouses’ attorneys (or the spouse if he or she is not represented by an attorney). At the status hearing, the spouses/attorneys will inform the court of the progress, if any, they are making towards a settlement. A pretrial conference will also be scheduled at the status hearing. Ideally, the spouses will reach a settlement before the pretrial conference.
Pretrial Conference (Likely 2-6 Weeks from First Court Appearance)
At the pretrial conference, the court will meet with both spouses and their attorneys. Each spouse will be required to disclose the remaining issues that will need to be heard at trial. Both spouses are required to submit a pretrial statement, which the court will use to determine the length of trial necessary for the spouses to resolve all remaining issues. Between the pretrial conference and the scheduled trial, the spouses may continue to resolve the remaining issues if they so wish. If the spouses are unable to resolve the remaining issues, the next step will be trial.
The time period between the first court appearance and the pretrial conference may be the largest waiting period in the entire divorce proceeding. Scheduling can be tricky since the court docket determines how quickly a pretrial conference and trial can be held. Large populated counties generally have large dockets but more judges to hear cases, whereas small populated counties generally have small dockets but fewer judges to hear cases. Therefore, it is incredibly difficult to estimate how long a party will have to wait to schedule a pretrial conference.
Trial (Likely 2-6 Months from First Appearance & 2-5 Days after Pretrial Conference)
Any unresolved issues are decided by trial. In divorce proceedings, trials are always done by judge, never by jury. At trial, the judge will hear testimony from each spouse, any witnesses, any experts, as well as documented evidence. Using all of the evidence, the judge will decide on each of the unresolved issues. The judge will use those decisions and proposals submitted by both spouses to create the terms of the divorce. Then, the judge will issue a final order granting the divorce and outlining those terms. At this point, the divorce is final, and the spouses are bound by the terms in the divorce decree. A spouse may choose to appeal the decision if there was an error of law during the proceedings, but this is not very common. An appeal will generally result in a retrial rather than an automatic outcome in the other spouse’s favor.
Obtaining a divorce is a lengthy process. These are just the fundamental steps that are typical in divorce proceedings. Every divorce is different and will have its own timeline that may include other hearings or events that have not been mentioned here. It is important to speak with an experienced attorney about the timeline of a divorce and how the timeline may change at times when approaching trial or a settlement agreement. A divorce can be completed within 60 days or it make take years. The biggest factor in determining the length of a divorce is whether the spouses can work out issues in an amicable manner. The more issues that have to be decided by a judge, the longer the divorce will take.