California judge gets it right
I came across this article and video by the Huffington Post, which describe a new one-day divorce program in Sacramento, California. Sacramento Judge James Mize has designed and initiated a speedy divorce program for low income couples. Each Friday, couples are invited to divorce court, where they are provided with a free lawyer who assists in drafting the necessary divorce papers. After the paperwork is complete, the couples go in front of Judge Mize, and after a brief hearing, they walk away with signeddivorce orders. In an interview, Judge Mize complains that the paperwork and procedural requirements for an ordinary divorce are confusing and may take pro se parties years to complete correctly. Judge Mize’s program recognizes that couples need a faster and easier way to get divorced. The program is managed and staffed by volunteer attorneys and law students, requiring no additional state funding.
I applaud Judge Mize for his innovation in divorce law and agree with his sentiments. It takes far too long to get divorced. Divorce is a complex process, even when the parties have few issues and are able to resolve their divorce amicably. There are numerous documents that must be filed before a judge is even willing to look at the case to determine whether jurisdiction is proper, requirements have been met and the case is ready to proceed.
Utah’s waiting period and other requirements
In Utah, you can expect your divorce to take at least three months. Utah Code Ann. §30-3-18 provides that couples must wait 90 days after filing their divorce petition before a final order can be entered.
Prior to 2012, the 90 day waiting period was not required in cases where both parties completed the required divorce education courses. The waiting period could also be waived for any good cause set forth in the divorce papers.
In 2012, the Utah legislature amended Utah Code Ann. §30-3-18 to prevent parties from waiving the 90-day waiting period unless they can establish extraordinary circumstances. While it remains unclear what may qualify as extraordinary circumstances, it is clear that the legislature wanted to make it more difficult for couples to get a speedy divorce. Under the prior version of the statute, couples needed only to assert that they had been unsuccessful in their attempts to reconciliation and that they were certain any further attempts to save the marriage would be futile. Now, couples will need to show that there is some other pressing reason, such as a new marriage or extraordinary financial situations, in order to obtain a waiver of the mandatory waiting period.
Even under the best set of circumstances, it will likely take at least 90 days after you file your Utah Petition for Divorce to obtain a final order. If the divorce is contested or the required papers are not filed, the divorce may take much longer. There are numerous affidavits, information sheets and other documents which must be filed with the court before the judge will enter the Decree of Divorce.
With contested divorce cases, it may take years to obtain a Decree of Divorce. Couples are required to fully disclose all financial assets through a lengthy discovery process. It may be necessary to retain other professional to assist in the division of property, such as forensic accountants, home appraisers and tax experts. Couples with children frequently retain guardian ad litem attorneys to interview the children or psychologists to complete a thorough custody evaluation.
Hopefully, Utah lawmakers will eventually realize the need for a faster and simpler divorce process. The current Utah belief seems to be that the courts can save marriages by slowing down the divorce process. When a couple decides that their marriage is so irretrievably broken that they need to divorce, it is generally not in anyone’s best interests to try to keep that couple together. Nobody knows whether a marriage can be saved better than the two individuals who are living in that marriage. If a couple is able to work out a divorce resolution without court intervention, Utah should let them be divorced.
The family law team at Intermountain Legal understands the need to have divorce cases handled as quickly and efficiently as possible. Family law attorney Hailey Black can guide you through a contested divorce or work with you to ensure all required papers for your uncontested divorce are in order. During your initial consultation, Hailey will advise you on your options and provide you with an approximate timeline for resolving your divorce case.