An uncontested divorce is considered the "easier" divorce because there is nothing to fight or "contest" that can't be resolved without court intervention. There may be no need to decide child or spousal support, nor marital property to divide. Uncontested divorces are usually faster to process because the parties never see the inside of a courtroom.
When an outstanding child or spousal support and marital property exists, the spouses may agree to the terms of a separation agreement and go on their merry way. If the case proceeds to court, a court may grant an uncontested divorce if the defendant fails to appear in court. Here, the court may award everything to Plaintiff by default.
When it comes to divorce, four main issues must be settled:
No divorce is considered truly "contested" because there are always disagreements. The difference is that these disagreements can be resolved outside of a courtroom and potentially without an attorney in an uncontested divorce.
In an uncontested divorce, the couple does not need to go through the stress of a trial to decide on the issues above. In fact, hostility is typically reduced, allowing cooler heads to prevail so that both parties can move on much faster than if they were to pursue the matter through litigation.
When a couple decides to divorce, they should first try to come to terms that they can both agree upon without needing to go to court. That way, even if they do need to go to court, the process can be streamlined because they've already come to an agreement on some of the issues on their own.
Some couples may decide that they need help to resolve their issues, but they may not necessarily hire an attorney. In these cases, the couple can opt for arbitration or go to a mediator, with or without an attorney present. This allows the couple to save both time and money by avoiding litigation and trial.
If the parties file for divorce pro se, this means that they have chosen not to be represented by an attorney. In this case, the parties would need to obtain the appropriate forms from the court that would have jurisdiction over the matter.
Upon completing these forms, the parties would then bring or mail them to court, along with the related fees. A judge would then be assigned to the case. After reviewing the paperwork, the judge would sign off on the divorce, provided nothing further was required from the parties.
Unfortunately, many uncontested divorces turn into contested ones when one or both spouses decide to turn the divorce into a fight. Maybe the husband had decided not to move out of the marital home when he had initially agreed to let his wife keep the house. Maybe the wife had decided that she wanted spousal support when she had previously waived her claim.
In this case, the parties would still be allowed to proceed pro se if they chose to do so, or they could opt to hire an attorney. In the case of a contested divorce, the parties would not consult the court for a packet of the divorce paperwork. Instead, the matter would be assigned to a judge and, from there, it would proceed to litigation.
When To Hire An Attorney
It may still be a good idea to hire an attorney in an uncontested divorce to ensure that you are protected in ways you couldn't know if you weren't an attorney. For example, if you are entitled to half of your spouse's pension, and you are unaware of this when you file for divorce, you may not be able to go back for it once the papers have been signed.
There may be insurance benefits you may be entitled to that you are unaware of, and you may have to split the cost of certain debts that you don't realize are partially yours. If there is an order of protection in place, this too can complicate things to the point where consulting with an attorney would be a helpful move.
You may even have questions about whether you are entitled to sue for divorce on the grounds you are seeking. And, depending on where your spouse may be, if s/he is not living with you, it may also be difficult to serve your spouse with the summons and additional paperwork needed to start the proceedings.
Parties involved in a contested divorce may choose to proceed pro se at first, then decide to hire an attorney later in the case if they feel the court is not adequately meeting their needs. Both parties may not hire the same attorney, as this would present a conflict of interest, and the attorney would be ordered by the court to pick a side or abandon the case altogether.
Some things may come up over the course of a contested divorce that you cannot possibly predict. Suppose one of the parties loses his or her job during the proceedings. What happens to maintenance or child support then? Suppose the marital residence succumbs to property damage, and one party no longer wants the house. In situations like these, the parties may opt to consult with an attorney to ensure their rights are protected.
Perhaps the most notable benefit of an uncontested divorce is the amount of money you can save by not having to hire an attorney. And even if you do need to hire an attorney to help with the paperwork, this is still infinitely cheaper than needing someone to guide you through what is likely to be a years-long litigation process.
While there exists the possibility of any divorce, contested or uncontested, of a disagreement, an uncontested divorce is designed so that the parties can get in and get out with few cuts and scrapes. In other words, couples are granted divorces more quickly, and there are fewer demands for information and fewer proceedings needed to resolve the couple's issues.
Another benefit that many may not know about is that couples have more control over their private information with an uncontested divorce. Contested divorces are made public, as too are their sordid details. In an uncontested divorce, less information is filed with the court, which is less information than in the public record.
Couples with more complicated situations may want to evaluate whether an uncontested divorce is the right move for them. The first issue is children. Couples who have unemancipated children will undoubtedly experience a more complicated divorce than couples without kids. Issues like child support, visitation, medical insurance, and schooling choices must be decided and agreed upon.
Some states don't even permit couples with children to file for an uncontested divorce. In fact, couples with children are subjected to filing additional paperwork to ensure that the rights and needs of the children are adequately met.
Couples who disagree on spousal support or property arrangements may also do better to let a court and their attorneys help them agree. Yes, hiring an attorney and going to court is a costly process, but it can be cheaper in the long run than the amount of money you could end up spending and losing when you are inexperienced on the law.
Settling A Divorce Before Trial
Sometimes, a couple will go through litigation to the point of trial and then agree on the terms of the divorce before they make it to the trial. This is called a "settlement." What's great about a settlement is that the parties do not have to worry about the other spouse filing an appeal because the court did not decide for them; they made it for themselves. This means that, for the most part, they have agreed.
If the parties settle, it is important to document it. Therefore, the next step is for a settlement agreement to be drafted, either by the pro se Plaintiff or his or her attorney. The settlement agreement then works as a legally binding document, and its provisions can be enforced in the future by a court if one of the spouses fails to live up to that agreement.
Judges and lawyers are there for you if you need to pursue a matter to trial; however, most prefer to settle out of court in much the same way as if the couple was proceeding in an uncontested fashion. If the parties have difficulty agreeing by themselves, their lawyers will usually help them do so before the matter proceeds to trial.
Do you need to consult with a licensed professional before determining whether you should file for a contested or uncontested divorce? Reach out to one of our counselors today, and they can help you understand which option would be best for your particular situation.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Does Uncontested Mean In A Divorce?
In a divorce case, an uncontested divorce essentially means the two parties agree about all the divorce issues. You have to consider everything while filing for divorce, including all issues about child care, alimony, division of property, and debt division. One might not consider a separation an official “divorce divorce” until all of this is ironed out.
This is, of course, in contrast to a divorce contested divorce. Divorce, or legal separation, can be tricky with a lot to sort out, so there is nothing wrong with a contested divorce. An uncontested divorce is generally cheaper and quicker. Agreeing to get this divorce uncontested divorce is usually a good goal. While the vocabulary can be confusing, an uncontested divorce is still officially a divorce.
To have a successful uncontested divorce, you must be on the same page as your partner. Divorce mediation is sometimes helpful as a middle ground, where you can still go as an uncontested divorce but still get some professional help in ensuring the divorce is finalized.
Do Uncontested Divorces Go To Court?
Maybe on TV, you have seen a courtroom holding a trial for a divorce. An uncontested divorce, however, does not typically go to court like a normal divorce. Divorces contested will be held in court with attorneys, more appropriate for the stereotypical TV drama of a divorce. An uncontested divorce or legal separation is finalized when the couple files the required court forms. Instead of appearing in a trial, the couple submits paperwork that explains how the divorce case will be settled, and then the divorce is finalized.
The divorce petition is sometimes tricky but should be manageable as both partners agree to an uncontested divorce. A divorce or legal separation can be a time-consuming process, and many people will look for any option making it easier and quicker to complete your divorce.
This applies to legal separations and more permanent-seeming divorce. However, an uncontested divorce is possibly the best way to mitigate any long-term problems. During a divorce, uncontested divorce often means less petty squabbling to reach the common goal of a mutually beneficial and efficient separation.
Should I Get A Lawyer For An Uncontested Divorce?
Please consult a legal professional if you are in any doubt about the necessity of a lawyer in your specific divorce.
It depends. While an uncontested divorce may appear easy, it is not just a casual agreement; it is still a divorce. If your divorce case is simple and straightforward (i.e., no children, no debt, limited resources to divide, and amicable divorce), you may not necessarily need a lawyer to settle the divorce papers. But it still may be a good idea to get an attorney. An attorney can help protect you in ways that you might not even know exist when filing for divorce. Divorce is a complex legal process that most laypeople don’t fully understand, even if it’s a divorce uncontested divorce.
Attorneys will be experts in the law and could help you in unforeseen ways, such as explaining any alternatives to divorce. Divorce or legal separation may seem like the only option, but seeking professional guidance could change that. Alternatives to divorce could include collaborative divorce or divorce mediation. Collaborative divorce is when each party hires an attorney and works out the divorce details outside of court.
How Much Does An Uncontested Divorce Cost?
The cost of uncontested divorce will be different for everybody, but usually, it will be cheaper than a contested divorce. An uncontested divorce requires far fewer people and professionals, so it is likely cheaper than the sheer workforce.
Divorce papers can cost a lot of money, and there are also filing fees, so even the cheapest possible outcome could run upwards of $500. This number goes up if you hire an attorney (which you probably need) and can go up more if the case goes to court. An uncontested case is almost always cheaper than a contested divorce. Any official divorce will generally cost a fair amount of money for one or both people.
If you end up going with one of the alternatives to divorce, you may end up paying a different amount.
Can You Get A Divorce If Your Spouse Won't Sign?
You can often get a divorce or legal separation even if your spouse doesn’t sign. Particularly in locations with no-fault divorce laws, the divorce petition is not void even if the spouse doesn’t sign. If this is the case for you, an uncontested divorce may not be an option. You should ask a licensed legal professional for advice on your specific divorce or legal separation.
How Much Does A Divorce Cost If Both Parties Agree?
If both parties agree on an uncontested divorce, it will generally be a cheaper process. Any kind of official divorce is likely to cost at least some money. Various alternatives to the divorce may be more expensive than others, but they can generally be cheaper than going to court. The highest cost could be the divorce petition. Divorce expenses associated with divorce, including filing fees or attorneys.
In the end, an uncontested case can cost as low as $500, depending on location and details, but could rise significantly in price despite your best efforts. It might also be thousands of dollars if you go to court, although it could help to use one of the alternatives to divorce. An uncontested divorce will likely be cheaper and possibly easier, but it all depends on the specific situation. Talk with your partner if you can, and try to find a way to make the divorce process as easy and cheap as possible for everyone.