Without taking into account the time consumed by state-specific regulation and court-related procedures, a custody battle can take:
- Between 1–2 weeks and 10 months (if the battle is low-conflict)
- Between 12 months and 3 years (if the case goes to trial and/or the battle is high-conflict)
Now here is how a custody battle’s timeline is impacted by a variety of factors:
Regulation and Court-Mandated Procedures
Though the time frames mentioned above do not include the time taken by regulation and court-related procedures, spouses should factor the following in their estimates:
- Some state laws require divorcing spouses to live apart for a specified period before a divorce petition can be filed. This living apart or waiting period is also referred to as the cooling-off period. Additionally, state laws also specify a period for which the spouses have to live separately/wait before a decree of divorce can be granted. Some states may reduce the cooling-off period when parents of minor children take a state-mandated divorce and child custody education course. In some cases, the courts can also issue interim orders during the cooling-off period.
- States also require spouses to fulfill residency requirements before filing for divorce. Each state requires spouses to reside in a single county for a specified period before filing a divorce petition.
- Then there is the county court’s backlog of cases that has the potential to add a few weeks to a custody case.
- If the courts order a custody evaluation, it adds another 6 to 9 months to the timeline.
- If the courts order a psychological evaluation of the parents or the child, it adds a few weeks to a few months.
- If the child declares that he/she wants to live with one parent, and the other parent does not agree, the courts can order a guardian ad litem attorney to be appointed for the child. This process also takes a few weeks to a few months.
- A meticulous judge can also take his/her time – or, on the other hand, an experienced judge can make a quick decision if everything is on the table.
Your Custody Lawyer’s Legal Skills
If you want your custody case to proceed smoothly and get resolved quickly, you need to work with an experienced custody attorney who has successfully resolved many cases similar to yours. If you want to be at an advantage, work with an experienced lawyer.
Mediation and the Child Custody Battle
A couple can decide to hire a mediator voluntarily or the court may appoint one. The mediator is, in most cases, an experienced child custody attorney who plays the role of a facilitator but doesn’t have any decision-making powers. He/she helps the spouses discover a solution but leaves the final decision in their hands.
Mediation is an informal, quick, legally sound, confidential, and affordable process. So, if you and your spouse have resolved thorny issues around alimony, child custody, type of custody, and child support, you can expect the mediator to resolve your case very quickly. If you are starting from scratch and agree on nothing, it might take multiple sessions with a mediator to resolve everything. That can take weeks to a couple months.
Trial and the Child Custody Battle
If the case is high-conflict, or when the spouses refuse to reconcile, then the case is likely to go to trial, which takes a long time. A pretrial is a hearing before a judge that seeks to clarify the problems and legal issues surrounding a custody case so that the spurt’s time is saved during the main trial. Then, after the pretrial, if the case heads to trial, it lengthens the custody battle’s timeline.
Once time flies and conflicts increase, it could take up to 3 years to resolve a high-conflict case by trial. Most often, though, in most states, from the time a case is filed until it goes to trial is about 18 months.
The length of a custody battle depends on the skills of your lawyer, the circumstances of the case, its conflict quotient, and the will of the spouses to put an end to the battle. No matter how strong a spouse thinks his/her case is, the courts always decide in the best interests of the child.