Pursuant to SDCL 25-4-34, the fastest time in which a South Dakota divorce can be finalized is 61 days after service of the summons and complaint in the case. On the other end of the spectrum, some contested cases can take well over a year. Most cases take somewhere in between.
The substantial majority of divorce cases eventually end in a settlement rather than a contested trial. Therefore, the biggest factor in how long a divorce case takes is usually how quickly the parties are able to agree upon the terms of a settlement. Below are some factors that can cause a divorce to take longer:
- The need for formal discovery can cause a case to take longer. Formal discovery usually involves the parties answering questions under oath and producing documents and evidence. While it can be time consuming, formal discovery is usually necessary before a case is taken to trial.
- The need for a custody evaluation can cause a case to take longer. Such evaluations often take months to complete. If a custody evaluation has been ordered, it usually means that the parties have failed to work out a settlement of issues involving custody using other methods, such as mediation.
- Sometimes practical matters, such as the desire to sell or refinance a home before finalizing the divorce, can cause a case to take longer.
- Poor communication will make a divorce case take much longer. If both parties have attorneys, communicating requests and proposals is similar to a game of telephone. Party 1 will contact his attorney, who will then contact Party 2′s attorney, who will then contact Party 2, who will then get back to her attorney, who will then contact Party 1′s attorney, who can then relay the response to Party 1. So, a communication which might have occurred between the parties in minutes with a short phone call usually takes days if communicated through the parties’ attorneys. This fact highlights the importance of two things. The first is that the less parties have to use their attorneys to communicate over relatively minor matters, the faster and less expensive the case is likely to be. This is one reason I often recommend that my clients participate in mediation. Secondly, the above scenario demonstrates the importance of having an attorney who is prompt in communicating with both their client and the opposing attorney. Some attorneys are far better at this than others.
- If the case is appealed, it will take significantly longer to complete. Usually there is no dispute as to whether the parties are divorced, but issues of property division or child custody may not be conclusively resolved for quite some time if the case is appealed.