Under the Texas Family Code, there is a mandatory sixty-day waiting period between when you file for divorce and the earliest possible day a divorce can be granted. The only exception to this rule is if there is a protective order or a conviction related to family violence.
Even though day 61 is technically the first day you can finalize a divorce (without the family violence exception), the vast majority of cases take much longer. The only cases that are complete on day 61 are those that settle very quickly and usually involve relatively few issues. For cases that involve disputes over property, debts or the children, cases can take a year or even longer to complete.
In general, cases that do not involve minor children tend to take less time than those involving children, but that is not always the case. In cases that do not involve minor children, the length of time involved with the case is based largely on the amount of discovery that is needed to determine the property and debts at issue. Can the parties exchange an inventory and appraisement and negotiate or mediate? Do one party need to conduct extensive discovery into assets that the other party controlled during the marriage? Does one party have a business that needs to be valued? Is one party seeking an uneven distribution of the estate that requires evidence of fault grounds? All these factors determine the length of discovery and when the parties can reasonably attempt to settle or try the case.
Child custody disputes often increase the length of time a divorce is pending. Many counties in North Texas, such as Dallas County and Kaufman County, require a social study in a contested custody case. (Of note, Collin County does not currently require a social study in custody disputes.) Social studies can take anywhere from 3-9 months, depending on the agency conducting the social study. It often takes a couple of months before the parties even reach the point of realizing that a social study will be required for their case.
After discovery is completed, if the parties are unable to reach an informal settlement, most courts require the parties to attend mediation. Mediation is successful in a large percentage of cases.
If a case settles, it can still take a few months to wrap up the case. One attorney (usually the attorney for the petitioner) will draft a final decree of divorce. His or her client must then review and approve the decree. The attorney then sends it to the attorney for the other side, who reviews it with his or her client and requests changes, if needed. Decrees can be quite long in cases involving children (40+ pages is common), so it is a time consuming process for both sides to review and revise the decree. Once the decree is finished, one party (usually the petitioner) will attend a prove up hearing with his or her attorney to finalize the case. The divorce will be over that day.
When a case does not settle, the parties must have a trial. The trial can be either a bench trial (before the judge) or a jury trial. In my experience, a jury trial is very rarely justified in a family law case. They are expensive, take additional time, and you really roll the dice with a jury. How long the parties have to wait for a final trial depends on when someone requests a trial setting and how backed up the court’s docket is.