Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce & Legal Procedures

If you’re on the path to divorce, one of the most impactful decisions you will make is the type of divorce you choose. And for parents, this includes how you can protect — and prioritize — your children along the way. Understanding the difference between a contested and uncontested divorce is an excellent place to start.

While an uncontested divorce works by mutual agreement, a contested divorce — when completed in litigation — can lead to lengthy court proceedings where a judge decides the final outcome. Whatever type of divorce will work in your circumstance, mediation can help ensure your process is as simple and peaceful as possible.

This guide will dive deep into contested vs. uncontested divorce and how to get through this experience as painlessly as possible.

What’s a contested divorce?

In a contested divorce, one spouse opposes or challenges one or more aspects of the divorce petition.

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A contested divorce usually refers to disputes over elements related to the divorce, such as the following:

Grounds for divorce: Disagreement with the allegations being used as the grounds for divorce. Note: All states have adopted “no-fault” divorce laws, meaning that specific grounds for divorce are unnecessary.

Division of property: Disagreement about a “fair” division of assets (house, cars, savings, etc.) or debt allocation.

Spousal maintenance: Disagreement about payment amount and duration of spousal maintenance, commonly referred to as alimony.

Child custody and visitation: Disagreement over the terms of custody or visitation.

Child support: While courts generally have detailed guidelines, disagreement may exist around the necessary amount of child support.

To contest the issues within a litigated divorce proceeding, both parties present their case in court, which results in numerous court appearances. They’ll often bring in legal counsel, and a judge will make the decision based on the arguments and evidence laid out before them.

An experienced mediator can help spouses agree on all issues, even when significant conflict exists. In mediation, the spouses stay in control of all decisions.

What’s an uncontested divorce?

In an uncontested divorce, both parties are willing to move forward with a divorce — although one spouse may initiate the process, and the other may feel differently.

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Spouses can almost always reach agreements on all divorce topics with the help of a mediator, even when they don’t initially agree on things. In mediation, they create agreements that work well for both. The mediator documents their mediation agreements, specifying how the assets will be divided. Parents will also create a parenting plan that details all parenting responsibilities.

The clients review and approve the documentation of agreements reached in mediation. Then, a divorce decree (or settlement) is submitted to the court for approval. Once approved, it serves as a blueprint for asset distribution, child custody, and all other stipulations.

Since both spouses play a role in developing their divorce agreement, there is no need for a court trial. The spouses usually cite irreconcilable differences as the reason for the divorce or legal separation, which helps them proceed through the legal process with relative ease.

Uncontested divorces are generally faster, less emotionally taxing, and less expensive than contested divorces.

Contested vs. uncontested divorce: key differences

Here are the differences between contested and uncontested divorce and how mediation can help reduce stress so that both of you can begin the next chapter of your lives:

State requirements

The Petition is the initial document filed with the court that begins the process.

In a contested divorce, the Petition typically includes many leveraged demands and defensive language, as well as specific yet unnecessary grounds for divorce, such as adultery or gambling addiction.

In an uncontested divorce, the Petition does not usually include extreme demands, accusations, or name-calling. The spouses cite irreconcilable differences as the grounds for divorce.

Through mediation, neutral divorce documents are created and signed together instead of serving one spouse with divorce papers at their home or business. This streamlines the process and reduces conflict.

Some states have rules regarding how long you must live there before filing for divorce. Be aware of possible state residency requirements in your state. This ensures the court has jurisdiction over the case and applies in both contested and uncontested divorce.

Cost implications

A contested divorce in court usually comes at a higher cost. The more time spent in court, the more that is paid in attorney and court fees.

This is an image of a clock on a table with some tulips nearby.Uncontested divorces are generally less expensive than contested, but the cost increases when spouses hire attorneys rather than mediate.

Divorce mediation is likely the best process for you if you’d like to forgo the high costs of working with an attorney or a high-conflict process. With a mediator serving as your guide, you and your spouse can design unique terms in a confidential process that takes less time and costs less.

Timeframe for resolution

A contested divorce in litigation can last several months to years since multiple court visits, court delays, and lengthy court arguments and responses can take a great deal of time. Additionally, you will be expected to track court dates—missing one can create major complications.

A contested or uncontested divorce, in mediation, can be finalized in a matter of months. Mediation allows you to efficiently complete your process without ever setting foot in a courtroom.

Legal procedures and paperwork

In a contested, litigated divorce, you may be subject to a discovery process where information is gathered about you in multiple court hearings or a trial.

Uncontested divorces are generally simpler, with less paperwork and no court time required.

In both cases, documentation of the separation terms, including the division of assets and debts, will determine the amount of paperwork you’ll need to reference. In mediation, your Aurit Center Certified Mediator will help you with the necessary legal documentation and support you as you reach agreements regarding your assets and debts.

Emotional toll

The adversarial style of contested divorce proceedings often plays out as a fight. The uncertainty of outcomes takes an emotional toll on everyone involved, including children and close family members.

Uncontested divorces, on the other hand, often result in a more peaceful resolution since both parties collaborate to develop and determine the agreed-upon terms.

Remember, in either case, divorce mediation minimizes emotional stress and provides spouses with a supportive environment to have difficult conversations. In mediation, you are not alone.

Control over divorce terms

In court, the judge has the final say. So, if you’re contesting a divorce in litigation and the judge doesn’t rule in your favor over an issue, there’s nothing you can do.

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In mediation, your professional mediator will help you and your spouse mutually agree on all divorce topics. This less combative approach gives you control over the final outcome. Who better to make decisions about your future than you.

Confidentiality and public records

Litigated divorce proceedings become part of the public record and can be viewed by anyone who requests them. While some states offer options for sealing certain divorce records, this is usually only done for sensitive cases.

However, in mediation, information disclosed during either uncontested or contested divorce is confidential. Anything said during your mediation meetings is protected by law and cannot be used against you later in court.

Divorce mediation: a better solution to divorce in court

While uncontested divorces lead to amicable agreements, it can take work to decide together. That’s where your divorce mediator can help you succeed.

And mediation isn’t just for uncontested divorce. A contested divorce doesn’t have to be a battle. Fighting in court leads to expensive court costs, high legal fees, and a lengthy divorce process. When you both agree to approach your contested divorce via mediation, you save time and money, as well as stay in control of your agreements.

<blockquote>Mediation provides a supportive, calm environment where spouses can come together and agree on the best path forward.</blockquote>

No matter the level of conflict or initial agreement on certain issues, mediation is helpful for all spouses seeking a divorce. An experienced, specially trained, professional divorce mediator can help spouses efficiently and effectively reach agreements.

The process of divorce mediation

Planning to work together and reach agreements shows you want to take a healthy path forward. Your professional mediator will help you reach all agreements while supporting you every step of the way during those conversations.

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The mediation process typically proceeds as follows:

  1. Initial consultation: You and your spouse meet with your Aurit Center Certified Mediator in a free online consultation to better understand the process and get answers to all of your questions.
  2. Information gathering: Financial, property, and custodial information that may be helpful for your conversations in mediation is gathered.
  3. Agenda creation: The mediator establishes an agenda to ensure that your agreements are as comprehensive as possible.
  4. Mediation meetings: Your mediator facilitates the meeting with both spouses. The mediator may occasionally speak with each of you individually if it helps the discussions.
  5. Resolution and agreement: Once all agreements have been reached, depending on the state in which you are filing, your mediator may draft your final Consent Decree for you or draft a Summary of Agreements reached in mediation.
  6. Legal review: Spouses can individually review their agreements with a mediation-friendly divorce lawyer to get legal advice before signing.
  7. Court submission: The final document is submitted to the court.
  8. Finalization: When the judge signs, the divorce is finalized, and the marriage is legally ended.

How is divorce mediation different from a default divorce?

Default divorce is available in most states. It can occur in two situations.

  1. When spouses agree to every element of their divorce case, and one spouse files a Petition listing all the agreements that both parties approve of; or
  2. When a spouse is served with the Petition and doesn’t respond to the court within a designated period of time, the judge can, at their discretion, finalize the agreements as stated in the Petition. This forms a Default Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.

A default divorce isn’t recommended in divorce cases involving assets, such as a home or minor children. When you have assets or children, your agreements require details that a default divorce cannot provide. This can result in problems with your Default Decree in the future. To avoid future problems, you can discuss your options with a divorce mediator before moving forward.

Whether a divorce is contested or uncontested, mediation offers a simple and healthy approach

Mediation isn’t just for spouses who agree on their divorce settlement. No matter your level of conflict, mediation helps alleviate the stress and leads to a quicker, more affordable divorce.

Aurit Center Certified Mediators, having helped thousands of clients just like you, are experts at facilitating a collaborative divorce process even where conflict exists.

Consider mediation as a way to get through your divorce process with as little stress as possible so both you and your spouse can establish a foundation for healthy communication and co-parenting moving forward.

Contact us to schedule your free divorce mediation consultation today.

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