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Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce

The differences between a contested and uncontested divorce.

Going through a divorce is a challenging experience, and many divorcing couples are unaware of what their journey entails as they prepare to file. A significant factor that affects the duration and intensity of your divorce proceedings is whether your divorce is considered uncontested or contested. If you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse can agree and work together amicably, your divorce will likely be uncontested. On the other hand, if you and your spouse cannot cooperate and reach a decision mutually, your divorce will likely be contested.

Divorce proceedings involve various moving parts, so it is crucial to pinpoint why you and your spouse wish to get divorced. Whether it's due to irreconcilable differences or a major event that's impacted your marriage negatively, consider the following questions as you prepare for divorce:

  • Are you seeking a fault or no-fault divorce?
  • What compelled you to seek a divorce?
  • What specific regulations does your state have for divorce proceedings?

Divorce proceedings can vary by state, so ensure you are familiar with the requirements that must be met. Even with these variations, certain aspects must be addressed when filing for divorce. Divorcing couples should consider how to handle the following factors:

  • Division of property
  • Allocation of debts
  • Distribution of assets
  • Spousal support
  • Child custody schedule
  • Child support

Uncontested divorce

An uncontested divorce occurs when both parties agree on all significant issues related to the divorce. Depending on your state, additional requirements may determine whether your divorce is uncontested. These requirements could include spouses spending time apart before filing, waiting for some time before proceeding, or other stipulations.

Once both parties agree on these decisions and meet other state-specific requirements, the divorcing couple files a joint petition for divorce that the courts will review. The court grants the divorce once it reviews and approves the petition and related agreements. Neither party can appeal once the court approves it, but modifications can be requested and made after a specific amount of time determined by your state has passed.

Because no litigation occurs in hearings, an uncontested divorce has a significantly shorter timeline and lower costs than a contested divorce. If you and your spouse can make these decisions together, you can avoid discovery phases, trial sessions, and other time-consuming legal procedures. Bypassing lawyers and time spent in hearings means you and your spouse can also avoid legal fees, court fees, and additional associated costs.

For couples who struggle with communication but still wish to pursue an uncontested divorce, working with a mediator or arbitrator can be a productive and cost-effective option that still results in a mutually agreed upon settlement. Mediators and arbitrators typically cost less than attorneys and court fees, and their processes are much faster than going through the courts. Arbitration involves a third party who issues a ruling, much like a judge in a courtroom would. Mediation involves a third party who facilitates conversations between a divorcing couple working to reach an agreement.


Contested divorce

A contested divorce is the more common path when the divorcing couple has substantial disagreements on one or more significant issues. Couples who undergo a contested divorce will likely hire attorneys to assist with reaching an agreement and settling. If the parties cannot negotiate a settlement with the involvement of lawyers, the case will go to trial so a judge can review the case and provide a ruling.

The process of pursuing a contested divorce can be lengthy and time-consuming compared to that of an uncontested divorce. Managing day-to-day obligations can become complicated when preparing for litigation, conversing with lawyers, and handling anything related to your divorce. For those seeking guidance through this process, working with a family law attorney can be extremely helpful in navigating your divorce and following your state's specific guidelines.


Working through a contested divorce

There are several steps related to initiating and undergoing a contested divorce. First, one spouse must prepare and file a divorce petition that requests the divorce and details any supportive reasoning. The other spouse, also called the respondent, must sign a form acknowledging receipt of the petition. If the respondent refuses to sign the document or cannot be located, the spouse can find an alternative option to "serve" the respondent. This alternative must follow your state guidelines to avoid the dismissal of your case.

Once the petition is served, the respondent must respond with their agreement or counter-complaint in a timeframe determined by your state. This response must be filed, and the petitioner must be informed of the respondent's answer. If no response is received, the spouse who filed the petition can request that the court handle the case as an uncontested divorce.

In the time between filing the correct paperwork and having your divorce granted, a judge may issue temporary decisions on child custody, financial support, and other matters that will eventually be solidified. During the time between the interim and final decisions, both spouses must collect evidence for court hearings, request documents, and prepare for litigation. After the trial, the judge will provide a ruling on the case and grant the divorce. If the ruling does not align with the divorcing couple's priorities, individual or shared, then either party can appeal the decision.

Whether a divorce is contested or uncontested, a communication service like TalkingParents can be effective for parents transitioning to co-parenting. All communication can be facilitated and recorded through our messaging and calling features, keeping all your interactions organized and documented. We also offer a Shared Calendar which helps co-parents keep track of important dates like custody exchanges, doctor's appointments, and more. For more information, visit our features page.

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