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Why Does It Take so Long?

For at least half of the parties, and often for both, one of the biggest annoyances of the divorce experience is how long it takes. Going through the process, the parties often become very frustrated. Divorces are rarely smooth, completely agreeable transactions. In virtually every case, even when both parties want the divorce and both parties are mature, respectful and cooperative, there will be stages when progress seems non-existent. Why, you may ask, is that the case? There are many reasons for delay, not even including the common supposition that an attorney is neglecting the case. While that sometimes occurs, delay is more often the result of one of the following factors:

1. Local rules. In Tarrant County (and most other counties in Texas and elsewhere), divorce and family law attorneys must follow local court rules in court cases. The rules may require certain steps to be followed and certain amounts of time for notice. They may permit cases to be postponed if short notice has been provided. There are delays for notice that are built in to the process so that everyone can have an adequate amount of time to prepare. For example, it is very common in Tarrant County for a first setting temporary hearing to be postponed if the Respondent has not had time to hire an attorney or if Respondent's attorney did not have time to prepare for court. Rules of evidence that affect whether certain information can be introduced into court sometimes provide for set periods of delay for notice to the other party to give them an opportunity to object to the evidence.

2. There is often a scheduling order which must be followed. Fairly early in a case's journey in the court system, it will likely be the subject of a scheduling order under the direction of the court. It will set up deadlines for all the actions needed to get the case ready for trial. Even though few cases ever go to trial, most cases proceed under a scheduling order. The parties generally schedule their actions according to the scheduling order and that may appear to slow down the case, from the perspective of the litigants. From the attorneys' perspective, they stay right on schedule and they do not consider themselves slow or behind schedule when they are following the scheduling order.

3. A difficult other side. This can be a serious problem that affects timing. If the other side chooses to be slow, that is hard to overcome. If the other side chooses to do as many things as possible, to “punish” or wear down the other side, they can often get away with it. I have seen an attorney create delays by fighting over everything while complaining that the other side is delaying. Simply a lack of cooperation by one side can cause significant delays.

4. Sometimes, a case gets postponed by the court and it's neither side's fault. Court often schedule more than one case at the same time. If one of the cases starts a hearing and takes a long time, that may bump the other cases to a later time. It's also true that a trial or hearing will carry over from a previous day and cause a chain reaction of delays with subsequent cases.

5. Some delays come when the parties are waiting for a ruling after a court hearing. Many courts routinely take several hours or days to issue decisions. A few courts may sit on a decision for months. It's frustrating, but there's not much that can be done to get the court to move faster. An attorney doesn't want to push too much for fear of getting the judge mad and then having the judge take out the anger on the client.

6. Occasionally, there may be scheduling conflicts with one or both of the attorneys in the case. Attorneys usually try to avoid such situations, but sometimes they occur.

What can be done? The best thing to do is to talk with your attorney. Make sure the attorney knows if there are any special circumstance that require a speedy conclusion. If you think there has been too much delay, discuss that with your attorney and find out if s/he agrees with you. Your attorney may be able to give you a valuable perspective that can relieve some of the stress you are feeling. Or the attorney may be able to help you devise a settlement strategy that will end the divorce sooner. The main thing is to act. Don't just sit around and stew about the situation. Divorces are stressful enough without adding unnecessary or unsolvable issues to your burden. Don't keep it in — let it out to your attorney, before it overwhelms you!