If you are seeking or anticipating a divorce in the state of New York, understanding what you can expect is tremendously helpful. You should read as much as you can of the divorce paperwork so that you won’t be caught off-guard by anything that happens in the divorce process.

During the process – and prior to any divorce trial – the divorcing partners must complete and exchange documents verifying their incomes, assets, properties, and expenses. A Westchester County divorce lawyer can help those seeking divorce complete the paperwork and understand the divorce process.

Many people severely underestimate the amount of time it takes to obtain a divorce in the state of New York, but divorcing spouses need to think in terms of months rather than weeks. The divorce process unfolds in a number of time-consuming stages, so when you divorce in this state, have some patience and use the time to read the divorce documents and learn as much about the process as you can.

Even before a divorce action is filed, spouses can sometimes begin to reach agreements on matters like alimony, the division of property, and if children are involved, custody and child support. Generally speaking, the more matters a divorcing couple can agree on, the faster they can divorce. Even at the pre-filing stage, spouses should consider seeking legal advice and guidance from an experienced New York divorce lawyer.

HOW LONG CAN IT TAKE TO WORK OUT A PRE-FILING SETTLEMENT?

Divorce clients can work for days, weeks, or in some cases months with their attorneys on a pre-filing settlement. If the parties can reach a comprehensive pre-filing divorce settlement, the divorce will be much easier and much less complicated. Everything hinges on the complexity of the disagreements and on how willing the parties are to work toward a comprehensive out-of-court settlement. Even when a settlement is reached, the final divorce documents must be prepared and sent to the court, and that process can take another two, three, or four months.

That’s a description of the best-case scenario. In most divorces, there will be at least one matter or more of fierce disagreement between the spouses that slows the divorce process. It might be a child custody battle, an alimony dispute, or an argument over property and assets.

During pre-filing negotiations, it is imperative to work with a divorce lawyer who knows how to negotiate these issues and when to stop negotiating and move the matter to court. If a spouse is simply stalling the divorce or running you in circles – perhaps to wear you down and gain concessions – instead of negotiating forthrightly, your attorney should spot the tactic and put a stop to it.

Formally, a divorce case begins in New York when a “Summons With Notice” or a “Summons and Complaint” is filed with the County Clerk’s Office. The spouse who files for the divorce is called the “plaintiff” and the other spouse – the husband or wife the plaintiff is divorcing – is called the “defendant.” If the plaintiff does not know the defendant’s location, it may take some time to locate the defendant, or the plaintiff may qualify for what the law in New York calls a “publication divorce” if a comprehensive search fails to locate the defendant.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A SUMMONS IS FORMALLY SERVED AND FILED?

After a summons is formally served to the defendant and filed with the court, the defendant may respond with an “Affidavit of Defendant” which agrees to the divorce without contest, or the defendant may respond by filing an “Answer” with the New York Supreme Court. The latter option means the divorce is contested.

Even then, nothing will happen until one party files a Request for Judicial Intervention (RJI). The RJI is the document that gets the case into court and in front of a judge. Once a summons and complaint have been served and filed, it is another thirty days before an RJI can be filed.

After a Request for Judicial Intervention has been filed, a preliminary conference will be slated with a judge or a Court Attorney Referee. The preliminary conference is typically scheduled thirty to forty-five days in advance. The purpose of a preliminary conference is to identify the precise issues in dispute, to determine and rate the probable “complexity” of the divorce, and to set a deadline for concluding the discovery process.

“Discovery” is the process of gathering and organizing exhibits and testimony before a trial. It includes subpoenas, depositions, and the exchange and sharing of all pertinent documents and evidence in the case. Discovery must conclude within four months of the preliminary conference in a “non-complex” divorce, within seven months of the preliminary conference in a “moderately complex” divorce, and within eleven months of the preliminary conference in a “complex” divorce.

The state of New York does what it can to expedite the divorce process, but if you are divorcing, it is best to expect unexpected delays and glitches. The divorce process can be slowed by the other side’s motions, by difficulties obtaining documents or depositions, or for a number of other reasons. You may have heard that patience is a virtue, but if you are divorcing in New York, it’s also a necessity.

HOW COMMON ARE DIVORCE TRIALS IN NEW YORK?

The truth is that divorce trials are extremely rare in the state of New York. Almost always, the attorneys for each side are able to negotiate compromises and settlements that are acceptable to both sides. In the rare event that a divorce trial becomes a necessity, depending on the county, a trial will be scheduled anywhere from three to nine months in advance. A divorce trial itself can run several days or several weeks, depending on the matters in dispute and the number of witnesses who must be heard.

The bottom line is that there is no way to predict in advance how long a divorce will take in New York – especially a contested divorce. Complicated, high-asset divorces take the longest, particularly when divorcing spouses are unwilling to cooperate. An experienced Westchester County divorce lawyer will do everything possible to expedite the divorce process, but once again, if you divorce in this state, you will need both a good divorce attorney and a great deal of patience.

By: Kimberly Pelesz

Family law and criminal defense attorney Kimberly A. Pelesz received a B.S. degree magna cum laude and an M.P.A. degree summa cum laude from Binghamton University. She earned her J.D. from Pace University School of Law in White Plains, where she was selected for Phi Alpha Delta. Her charitable activities include work with My Sisters’ Place in White Plains and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Humane Education Taskforce.

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