Can I Get Married While My Divorce Is in Process? (Asking for a Friend)
Going through a divorce is an emotionally taxing experience for a multitude of reasons. (And that's putting it lightly!) You'll undoubtedly have many questions along the way, especially as the divorce wraps up and you begin moving forward—both with your life and in new relationships. A common question people ask during this time is, "Can I get married while my divorce is in process?" While every state has its own laws, there is definitely a clear path toward putting your past marriage in the rear view and embracing your new relationship.
We spoke to two divorce attorneys who broke down the basics, including how soon you can get married after a divorce, whether you can get married without divorce papers and even how you can find out if you're still married in the first place. (Hey, things happen.).
In this article:
How Long Does the Divorce Process Take?
The timeline for a divorce varies greatly from state to state and even case to case. Generally speaking, an estimated timeline for a "quick" divorce is about six months, notes Massachusetts divorce lawyer Jolee Vacchi.
"Most divorces fall somewhere in the 12 to 18 month range to settle, while others can languish for two, three or even four-plus years in court awaiting a trial date," she says.
Factors that can complicate and lengthen the divorce process include custody negotiations, division of assets, handling of debts, both parties living in different jurisdictions and one party stalling the process.
How Soon After a Divorce Can You Remarry?
So is there a set timeline for how long after a divorce you can remarry? This ultimately depends on where you live and what laws your state has in place.
Most states don't have a waiting period for getting remarried after a divorce decree has been formally finalized—which means you can even remarry the very same day as your divorce. However, other states have their own sets of rules and caveats: For example, in the state of South Dakota there's no waiting period with the exception of adultery being a factor in the divorce. And Nebraska has one of the longest waiting periods at six months and one day.
Generally speaking, though, in the few states that require a waiting period following the finalization of a divorce, it only lasts between 30 and 90 days.
Do note though that there's almost always a waiting period between when the divorce is filed and when it's finalized. This is different from the waiting period following the finalization of the divorce itself. Vacchi says this period averages about three months and that each "party is still legally married during this time."
Can You Get a Marriage License If Your Divorce Isn't Final?
No. You must be legally divorced in order to remarry in every state.
"You cannot get remarried until the status of your marriage has been terminated," Sarah Intelligator, a divorce attorney based in California, explains. "Status refers to whether a person is still married or whether they are single. In California, when a divorce is granted, a person's status is restored to 'single.'"
The only exception to this would be if there's some mistake in the paperwork or filing process, which may be more apt to happen if someone gets divorced in one state and married in another. This is a mistake and not an exception to the rule.
"I've seen situations where a party thought they were divorced in one state, provided the paperwork from the court to the clerk in the second state, and was able to get a marriage license and get married in the second state," Vacchi recalls. "A few years later, the party found out that the divorce was never finalized in the first state, and now that person was legally married to two people."
What Does Bifurcated Divorce Mean?
When divorce negotiations drags on and on, this can impede your ability to move on with your life and remarry a future spouse. In this case, your state may grant what's called a "bifurcation divorce."
Vacchi explains that this can occur when both parties agree on some issues (like division of assets and debts) while litigating other issues (such as custody arrangements). Basically, there are still details to hammer out before the divorce decree is signed by the judge. This could trigger the potential for a bifurcated divorce.
"Simply put, in California, a bifurcation is a procedure by which the issue of [legal marriage] status is separated from the remaining issues in the case," Intelligator explains. "A court can terminate the status of the marriage and restore the parties to 'single persons,' while the court reserves jurisdiction—or the power to make decisions— regarding the remaining issues in the case."
This ultimately allows the person who wants to remarry to do so without legal obligations to their former spouse. They're still technically married—and that paperwork must go through eventually—but are legally "single" which makes remarriage possible.
What to Do If Bifurcation Isn't Possible
Not every state allows for divorce bifurcation. Yes, this can be frustrating—especially if there's no end in sight for the legal termination of your previous marriage.
As an alternative to a legal remarriage, you could arrange "some sort of private commitment or religious ceremony to commemorate your union, and then apply for a marriage license and legally marry once the pending divorce is finalized," says Vacchi.
However, she warns that if you're embroiled in an ongoing contested divorce, this may not be viewed favorably by the court. "Since family court judges have such wide discretion, you don't want to hand anything to them or opposing counsel on a silver platter to use against you," she explains.
How Can You Find Out If You're Still Married?
If you've filed a divorce on your own, or you're waiting for the paperwork to come through, you may wonder, "Am I still married?" Fortunately, it's easy to find the answer.
"Many states have online databases where you can search family court dockets," Vacchi notes. "If you have been divorced before, you can search your name on these databases to see if there is a Judgment of Divorce." You can also go directly to the courthouse where the paperwork was filed and access the records that way.
From waiting periods to bifurcation, the divorce process varies widely from state to state. It's always advisable to secure counsel and refer to your state's laws when navigating the process.