"How long to get Divorced", or Why the Lawyer says "It Depends"

January 2014
Written by Paramjit (PJ) Singh

Going through a divorce is a process filled with uncertainty:

  • Who gets the house?
  • Where will the kids stay?

And last, but not least,

  • How long will this take?

It seems like such a simple question, but the reality is that depending on the issues, circumstances and personalities involved, the time, and therefore cost, can vary a great deal. This article lists some of the most common factors that can result in such differing lengths of time.

NOTE: This information is based on estimates of some of the most common issues that can arise. It is NOT a comprehensive nor exhaustive list of issues that can arise. Please consult an experienced lawyer in order to ensure that all your particular issues and concerns are addressed.

The most common costs that vary are legal and accounting costs. Legal costs increase as more work needs to be done by a lawyer, and the same applies to work an accountant may need to perform. The information regarding legal fees is based on some discussions I have had with various family lawyers. Other factors that can impact the cost, include, but are not limited to:

  • The experience of the lawyer/accountant (generally the more senior and experienced, the higher their rate).
  • Any special knowledge required (e.g., Lawyers can specialize in divorce for farmers, or those with family trusts).
  • Extraordinary or unusual issues (e.g., One party passes away after the parties separate, but before the process is completed.)
  • Disbursements (expenses incurred during the process, such as fees to file documents, long distance calls, costs to have court documents registered, documentation, etc.) and applicable taxes are charged in addition to the legal fees.

Range of Services:

(a) Simple Divorce

This occurs where there is no corollary relief claimed in pursuit of a simple undefended divorce and as a result, there is no property support, custody matters, or related relief requested.

Estimated Cost

  • Legal: This shall usually involve less than 5 hours to draft, revise and finalize.

(b) Contested Divorce

Services are broken down into various stages.
The range of the number of hours in each stage can vary dramatically with each case.
* * * THIS POINT CANNOT BE OVER-EMPHASIZED!

While a contested action starts at stage 1 (noted below), it does not mean that each of the stages noted on the following pages occur to achieve finality. A settlement can occur at any stage, resulting in elimination of the remaining stages. The number of hours expended at any stage will vary directly with the following factors:

  • Complexity of matters at issue
  • The expertise of your lawyer and accountant and that of opposing professionals
  • The resources available to your lawyer and accountant to assist in the carriage of the file and the existing resources for the opposing professionals
  • The sophistication and intelligence of the client
  • The willingness of the client to assist their professionals (lawyer and accountant) in providing, assembling information, etc.
  • The client's spouse's intellectual/emotional ability to resolve the outstanding issues without the need of going through all of the following stages
  • The commitment of all parties involved, including the professionals of the clients, to resolving all outstanding issues as cost-effectively as possible. This is the overriding variable.

Stage One: Pleadings

This stage presupposes that an action had to be commenced by one party owing to the inability of the parties through their counsel to negotiate agreement without the necessity of an action. Most lawyers, in many cases, attempt to resolve the outstanding issues by way of trying to negotiate an agreement before stage one.

TIME

  • Lawyer: 1-15 hours (per pleading), Accountant: 1-3 hours (per pleading)

This range of times applies to your side only (exclusive of the other side) to prepare a pleading (i.e. statement of claim or petition for divorce). The other spouse's professionals will also have to respond to the pleadings, including a statement of defence, and will be required to answer with a counter-petition.

Stage Two: Financial Statements

Financial statements include actual and budgeted costs of living, detailing with supporting documentation weekly, monthly, and yearly costs, plus supporting documentation relating to weekly, monthly, and budgeted income, including but not limited to employment income, investment income, and all other advance receipts, whether taxable or not. In addition, the financial statements will include a detailed supporting listing of all assets and liabilities at the date of marriage and at the date of marriage breakdown, with certain exceptions. Where an asset is a bank account, it is easy to determine the balance or value at the required time. Where the assets relate to the value of a business, incorporated or otherwise, non-dependent valuation may be required from a chartered business valuator.

TIME

  • To Prepare Financial Statements
    • Accountant: 1-25 hours, Lawyer: 1-5 hours
  • Valuation Of Business (where applicable)
    • Cost of Business Valuation and Audit

Again, the time varies with the circumstances, the complexity of the matter, and the availability of information supported by documentation.

Stage Three: Motion

Preparation of documents can take from 5 to 20 hours for the lawyer, depending on the number of affidavits required, plus the complexity and length of content required in the preparation.

TIME

  • Preparing Documents (Lawyer) : 5-20 hours
  • Argue motion in court (including waiting in court): 1-15 Hours

Stage Four: Examination/ Cross-Examination

The cost of the Examination for Discovery stage can range from 1 to 25 hours for the lawyer, which does not include preparation time of 1 to 8 hours. In addition, I would review the other side's financial statement and prepare a list of questions for when your spouse is cross-examined.

TIME

  • Preparation Time:
    • Lawyer: 1-8 Hours, Accountant: 2-8 Hours
  • Cross-Examination Time:
    • Lawyer: 1-25 Hours

Stage Five: Case Conference Or Pretrial

Time can range from two to six hours for preparation, plus time at court, which could be 1 to 15 hours, including waiting time at court, to work towards a settlement of the dispute.

TIME

  • Preparation Time:
    • Lawyer: 2-6 Hours
  • Court Time:
    • Lawyer: 1-15 Hours, Accountant: 1-6 Hours

Stage Six: Trial

Assume a minimum of one to two days of preparation for every scheduled day of trial for your lawyer. Your accountant could be required to assist your lawyer in their preparation of financial details and also to discuss strategy. The accountant's time will be 1/2 of the lawyer's preparation time with a minimum of one day.

TIME

  • Preparation Time:
    • Lawyer: 2 Hours to 3 Weeks, Accountant: 2 Hours to 3 Weeks
  • Court Time:
    • Lawyer: 7 Hours to 2 Weeks, Accountant: 7 Hours to 1 Week

This is a general outline of what to expect if you decide to proceed with your litigation. The range of time is simply a guideline for a range of time, but also be aware that sometimes the time exceeds the range, and sometimes they are less. Your cooperation, your spouse's cooperation and the quality of the various professionals on both sides will dramatically affect the time required to complete your matter.

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PJ believes that communication is essential with his clients and works hard to ensure that his clients understand what is happening and are kept informed as their matter progresses. PJ practices generally and primarily in the areas of Real Estate Law, Family Law , and Wills & Estate Law as well as Commercial Law and Litigation.