Differences in Contested and Uncontested Divorce

Authored by Pam Hawley in Divorce
Published on 06-24-2009

Divorce is a lengthy and often painful process. Even when both spouses want to divorce, numerous issues must be resolved. The ability of you and your spouse to resolve those issues without going to trial determines whether you will have an uncontested or a contested divorce.

Uncontested divorces usually proceed with more speed and less emotional and financial ramifications than contested divorces. To determine whether you’re heading towards an uncontested or a contested divorce, ask these questions:

  • Do we both want this divorce, or is one party hoping for reconciliation?
  • Do we both understand our finances enough to negotiate resolution of debts and division of property and assets?
  • If children are involved, can we agree on child custody, support, care and visitation arrangements?
  • Can we keep anger, resentment or desire for revenge from impacting our settlement discussions?
  • Do we trust each other to be completely honest about family, financial and property issues?

If neither of you seek reconciliation and you can answer “yes” to all the other questions, then you have a good shot at an uncontested divorce. You may have many issues to work through, but you feel you can do so without the court’s intervention.

Some couples assume that in an uncontested divorce they will not need to hire lawyers. While this may be true for you, it is not always the case. Like contested divorce, an uncontested divorce requires you to navigate a complex legal system. Lawyers can help you through this process.

In an uncontested divorce you and your spouse work together, with your attorneys if you have them, to complete a written divorce settlement. Your divorce settlement must completely address your agreed-upon resolutions to child care arrangements, payment of debts, and division of property.

An uncontested divorce requires agreement across the board. For example, if you and your spouse can settle on all other issues but cannot agree on how to deal with existing debts, your divorce cannot be considered uncontested. If you do not reach a point where you can write a mutually accepted resolution on each issue into your divorce settlement agreement, you will need court intervention.

If you run into snags in reaching complete agreement, you might still be able to avoid a contested divorce. You, your spouse and your attorneys can meet with a mediator who can help you come to a resolution and finalize your divorce agreement.

Some spouses know from the beginning that their viewpoints and expectations are far too different to reach settlement without court intervention. In these circumstances, or when you find along the way that you cannot come to mutually acceptable arrangements on everything, then you will face a contested divorce. In a contested divorce you will need to have a judge rule on those areas about which you cannot agree. While this is the only option in some divorces, it does mean you and your spouse may have to live with legally decided arrangements that are not the best case scenario for one or even both of you.


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