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Brian Burke: About Your Divorce (Letter 2)

There's a reason the process takes as long as it does

Dear Pinky and Dear Spike

Dear Nora and Dear Nick,

You’ve had an exciting fortnight. Each of you told me about it, in the greatest detail, and I abruptly terminated conversations with each of you by invocation of “Ken’s Rule,” which, as you know, holds that it’s time to leave the party when you hear anyone say the same thing twice.

You still insist your divorce will be done in six months — even though I’ve explained how the “six-month divorce” is an urban myth, and I’ve shown you statistics uniquely available for South Santa Barbara County showing the average interval between separation and judgment is 29 months.

Since you think a fast divorce is a good divorce, you may be encouraged by the following numbers:

More About How Long a Divorce Will Take

» A one-day divorce. Forget about the six-month divorce; go for a one-day divorce.

If you come to terms on all issues, any family law lawyer can draft a formal agreement and the necessary court forms in less than one day. Your bundle can be delivered to the Clerk’s Office on that same day. If a judge happens to be in the Clerk’s Office and sees that your case has been assigned to him, he or she could sign the judgment and the divorce would be done.

We once had a judge, Patrick McMahon, who used to do things like that, but your bundle will take some time to go from the Clerk’s Office to the judge’s chambers for a signature, back to the Clerk’s Office, and then out to you or your lawyer.

The judgment will have your written agreement attached to it. Once it is signed by a judge, that agreement is transformed to an order of the court and the divorce is done.

The expiration date of the six-month waiting period is written in a box on the first page of the judgment; that’s the day you become single and can remarry. I’ve never seen this happen, but it’s possible.

» The duration of the marriage being dissolved is not a good predictor of the length of the divorce. The average intervals were: long marriage, 30.9 months; on average, short marriages (one to five years) took longer, 33.8 months; and the interval for very short marriages (less than a year), 21.7 months — longer than the longest marriage in that sub-set.

» The presence of a minor child seems to have a strong effect on the duration of the divorce. The average interval for a long marriage without a minor child — your case — is 18 months, so you’re likely to beat the overall average by a full year.

» Another positive finding is that very few couples need the court to hold an actual trial. In our census of 358 cases, there were only 11 trials (3.1 percent) in six years. As irrational as this all may feel and as imprudent as either of you might be in the future, an actual trial is highly unlikely; that’s very good news for you and for the divorcing population.

Why Divorces Must Take as Long as They Do

Stop thinking for 10 seconds. Then, remember how it was for you when my mother died so young and so unexpectedly. All three of us loved her, and at age 17 our worlds suddenly became unrecognizable.

Think. How long did it take you to come to terms with my mom’s death? Was it just six months? It wasn’t, because we were still talking and crying about it 20 years later. Other than my own divorce, my mom’s death was the only encounter with real grief that any of us has had — so far.

The essential experience of divorce is grief. It’s not similar to the grief experienced in the context of death; it is the same thing, and it’s painful.

Grief is transformative. You are Nora-1 and Nick-1 at the outset. You will be Nora-2 and Nick-2 at the end. How you choose to experience suffering will make you a better person or a worse person when it’s over.

In my next letter, I’ll tell you what we know about divorce and grief, and I’ll tell you where you are in that process.

Your best friend,

Bucky (who happens to be a) divorce lawyer

— Brian H. Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he is also the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call 805.965.2888.

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