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Contested vs Uncontested Divorce: What’s the Difference?

Herrig & Vogt March 10, 2018

contested vs uncontested divorce is often classified by attorneys and the courts.

What determines whether a divorce is contested or uncontested is how well you and your spouse can negotiate your differences. But before we explore the differences between these two types of divorce further, there are a few other terms you should know.

Divorce Terms

As with any legal matter, there are certain terms of art, words, and phrases that have special meanings. Those meanings, while understood by lawyers and the courts, can sometimes be confusing for everyone else. Here are some of the terms you may encounter if you decide to file for divorce.

No-fault. This means that neither party to the marriage is legally blamed or penalized for causing the dissolution. The court doesn’t need to hear about anyone’s cheatin’ heart. A spouse’s behavior may be a factor in some decisions such as debt distribution or child custody, but it isn’t a factor in deciding whether the divorce may be granted.

Irreconcilable Difference. In a throwback to a time when a complainant had to declare a reason for wanting a divorce, most divorce pleadings today still require the person filing to indicate why they think the divorce should be granted. Each no-fault divorce state has its own statutory language that individuals must use when stating their reason.

Summary Dissolution. A summary dissolution is a type of streamlined divorce. But summary dissolutions aren’t available to everyone. In some states such as California, summary dissolution is only available to couples ending marriages or domestic partnerships if they haven’t been together long, have no children together, and there are no major debts or assets to distribute.

Petition. This is the document one spouse files with the court to begin the divorce process. Sometimes this paperwork may be called a complaint or pleading. Once the petition is filed, it must be formally delivered or served to the other spouse. This is accomplished by delivering a formal document called a summons of dissolution following the procedures required by the court.

Default. Once a divorce pleading is filed by one spouse, the other must respond. If they don’t answer the complaint, then the divorce is granted by default. Even though the terms may seem similar, a default judgment granting a divorce is not the same as an uncontested divorce.

And that brings us to point of this article; What exactly do the terms contested and uncontested divorce mean?

 DIVORCE FACTS: According to the CDC, each year there are approximately 2.2 million marriages and 1 million divorces.

What’s the Difference Between a Contested and Uncontested Divorce?

 When someone contests a divorce, they aren’t arguing that the divorce can’t happen. The argument, or contesting, relates to one or more issues that have to be resolved before the divorce can become final. If both parties can agree on all the major issues surrounding the dissolution, then the divorce can proceed as uncontested. However, when a court has to make those decisions, then you have a contested divorce.

What types of issues must a divorcing couple resolve? Children and money top the list.

During a marriage, a couple may acquire an assortment of assets and obligations. When that couple decides to divorce, all their acquisitions and assets have to be split, the spouse who sacrificed his or her career will expect to be compensated, and provisions will have to be made for the couple’s children.

One spouse may have a pension or other retirement savings. The couple may have agreed that one spouse will forego professional gains in order to care for any and all of the above or for the other spouse. Sometimes only one spouse has a life insurance policy or is able to acquire employer-sponsored health insurance for the family.  They may also have children. Who will have custody, which parent will be responsible for support or other costs, and how visitation will be managed must all be resolved. For a divorce to be uncontested, the couple will need to demonstrate to the court that every issue has been worked out.

The Benefits of An Uncontested Divorce.

Coming to an agreement about how to divide, assign, share everything and care for and compensate everyone can be a complicated process.

Couples who work out these details between themselves, often with the help of their lawyers, can file an uncontested divorce.

Instead of investing time and money fighting over assets, debt and support issues in court, spouses prepare joint paperwork demonstrating that the issues have been resolved. Families with children may still be required to participate in hearings and evaluations, but an uncontested petition should reduce the total time spent in court.

Because they tend to be less complicated and take less time to resolve, uncontested divorces are sometimes called simple divorces.
What happens if the couple can’t reach an agreement? Then the divorce becomes contested.

When Is a Contested Divorce Necessary?

If there are issues that no amount of negotiation can resolve, one or both spouses will file motions with the court asking the judge to issue a ruling.

Sometimes a couple can’t agree on the value of an asset and each side will call upon an expert to testify on his or her behalf. Maybe the parties can’t agree on which school the children should attend or how much money should be set aside for college. Or, they may not be able to agree on one or both spouse’s contribution to the value of the family business.

Contested divorces can be expensive and time-consuming. In most cases, resorting to litigation will extend the time it takes for a divorce to be concluded. Additionally, a court hearing or trial may create unwanted publicity for spouses who value their privacy.

Unfortunately, sometimes a contested divorce is a necessity. If one spouse is attempting to undervalue assets or avoid obligations, then the court is the place to turn for help. A contested divorce allows each spouse to call witnesses and investigate the details of their marital assets.