The difference between a contested and uncontested divorce seems simple on the face of things, but it can easily be a source of misunderstanding. Based off the language, it seems pretty clear: A contested divorce is disputed, while an uncontested divorce is not. However, this simplistic explanation likely creates more confusion than clarity.
When a couple decides their marriage is no longer working, there are many important issues to sort out before the divorce is final. They must determine how to divide the marital property and debts, how the custody of any children will be arranged and if either spouse will be required to pay child support or alimony — and those are just the commonly disputed matters. Since every divorce will have unique circumstances, numerous other issues specific to a couple are bound to pop up.
The differences between contested and uncontested divorce
An uncontested divorce really means that a couple is able to resolve any disputed issues without going to court. Very rarely will a divorcing couple be able to come to total agreement on everything right away, but just because a divorce begins contested does not mean it will end with a judge making the decisions.
It may take many sessions of negotiation or mediation to finally compromise on a fair settlement for both parties, but usually an acceptable arrangement can be struck. Avoiding litigation is in everyone’s best interest, as it helps expedite the divorce and saves both parties tons of money in court and lawyer fees. Additionally, it is far less stressful if you are able to work things out between yourselves than if it comes down to lengthy legal clashes.
However, there are situations where no matter how hard you work for it, the two sides cannot come to an agreement. If that is the case, then the divorce will be considered contested — even if the court must decide just a single issue. If this occurs, know that it will significantly increase the expense of your divorce. And if you do not have a lawyer already, make sure you speak to an experienced attorney immediately.
Seek legal counsel for both contested and uncontested divorce
Because many feel starting out that they will be able to amicably negotiate all issues with their spouse, it is common for people going through divorce to try cutting the cost of an attorney completely. While it is possible to navigate an uncontested divorce on your own, it is still not a good idea to proceed without legal counsel.
Attorneys are not only familiar with all of the complexities that make up the family law system, but are extremely skilled negotiators. They are adept at coming up with creative solutions to disputed issues, which can help avoid litigation on issues that otherwise seemed bound for court.
Furthermore, if you reach an insurmountable impasse in your discussions, you will want someone familiar with your case standing in your corner. It is never a good idea to represent yourself through a contested divorce, as the intricacies of family law are far too complex for anyone but a lawyer to sort out.
Tips for avoiding a contested divorce
- Remain civil — undoubtedly, there will be times during negotiations that you will get angry. Outbursts are a good way to end sessions prematurely, so practice patience.
- Listen — No one likes to be ignored. Even if you disagree, listen to what your spouse has to say.
- Don’t seek more than your fair share — there are no “winners” in a divorce. If you go in with the attitude that you want to “win,” you are essentially ensuring the divorce will reach court.
- Don’t make principle arguments — fighting for something out of principle is a good way to raise tensions and alienate your spouse. If it isn’t important to you, don’t make it a bigger issue.
- Be open to compromise — accept that you aren’t going to get everything you want; just as your spouse will not get everything she wants.
- Utilize professionals — having an impartial, third-party mediator or an attorney assist negotiations can help set emotions aside and put everything in perspective.
All couples should strive to avoid a contested divorce; however, depending on the complexity of the case and willingness to compromise of both parties, that may not be possible. Minds can change in a heartbeat, and what once seemed like an open and shut case can turn into a litigated free-for-all.
It throws a major speed bump in getting the divorce finalized when couples cannot come to agreement on major issues by requiring lengthy legal battles and additional preparation work for attorneys — who typically charge by the hour. Luckily, the majority of couples are able to come to some type of agreement, either on their own or with help from attorneys, before they ever have to step foot in court.