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Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce

Divorce is always a challenging process considering the emotional, mental, and spiritual toll taken on both partners. However, when spouses decide on an amicable split, it reduces the overall stress on each as well as any children involved. An uncontested divorce is a facilitated option in all states where both parties agree on a settlement. Alternatively, one of the parties may file for divorce, but the second does not respond to the filing or appear in court. In this case, also, the divorce is considered uncontested. Contested divorces happen when the two spouses cannot agree on the issues required to be solved during the marriage dissolution. In so doing, a trial process is necessary where the couple goes in front of a judge who decides on the issues. Considering the legal fees and potential costs associated with valuation and forcible splitting of resources, it is quite an expensive process.

How Long Does an Uncontested Divorce Take?

Typically uncontested divorce durations depend on how long it takes for all of the divorce phases to be completed. The first step in getting a divorce is for one requesting the marriage be dissolved to file a summons with the courts. This summons also has to be served on the other spouse. Once the papers have been signed and notarized, the next thing would be to file the documents with the court clerk's office where the plaintiff resides. When the papers have been filed in court, the judge will approve and sign the judgment, which can take six weeks to three months. Considering it takes about 20 days to a month for one to respond to a summon, it would be safe to say the entire process may take up to four months to complete.

What Is a Contested Divorce, and Is It Worth It?

A contested divorce happens when the two spouses do not agree on the issues concerning their marriage dissolution. To resolve the problem, they present their cases with the assistance of legal counsel in front of a judge who then deliberates on the matter. Contested divorces tend to be quite expensive due to the legal fees and contentious nature of the process. It also takes much longer to complete due to the process of negotiating between the conflicting parties.

Typically, a contested divorce is a latter-case resort for couples because of the stress involved. However, it may be necessary in unavoidable circumstances, including spousal support. The couple may have differing views on whether spousal support ought to be payable or the amount required. Similarly, if the partners cannot agree on the best way to divide property or the items that qualify as marital assets. These scenarios may need a judge to decide on the couple's behalf. Prenuptial agreements can also precipitate a contested divorce. Even if there is one, it does not make it automatically enforceable. For example, a prenuptial agreement cannot be enforced in Texas if the court finds coercion involved when it is signed. That may cause contention, hence the need for a trial.

Contested divorces are not the best option, though, when the couple would prefer a quick process. Following several months of discovery and negotiation, the couple will have to go through a trial process that is complicated by the number of issues to be decided. A contested divorce is also not possible if one or both parties cannot afford legal counsel. Trial processes and submissions to the judge are billable, as lawyers charge by the session or hour. The financial considerations may not be worth the division of resources, especially if both spouses end up worse off. In this case, one should do everything possible to avoid going to a trial where one would have to represent themselves. It would be better to work towards a settlement that both can live with despite their initial desires. Depending on state laws, a contested divorce will also likely leave one in a worse position than would be the case if it was a mediation. Some states, for example, divide marital property evenly, regardless of whether one spouse purchased most of the resources rightfully.

Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce Cost

The longer a contested divorce process takes, the more expensive it will be for both spouses. There is no fixed range, but partners can expect to spend several thousand dollars on the process. The median cost in the United States is $7,000, though it can average $15,000 to $20,000. An uncontested divorce is much cheaper due to the lack of a trial process. It can run the partners as low as $335 if they use the Do-it-yourself approach. If they consult legal counsel, the costs may reach $2,000.

Difference Between a Contested and Uncontested Divorce

One of the most significant differences is the time taken for finalization. Uncontested divorces are processed rather quickly as they do not entail trial processes. The process depends on how fast the partners go through their steps, though it may last four months from start to finish. Contested divorces typically last much longer as there is no set time for completion. If the judge notes that the divorce has been sitting in the system, they may initiate a hearing to try and finalize the remaining issues. In an uncontested divorce, both parties consented to the terms. However, it does not mean that they are stuck in the agreement. If circumstances were to change significantly or some time passed, it may be possible to amend the agreement. Though, in a contested divorce, the judge has the obligation for decision making.

That means their decision tends to be final, so it is less appealable. An uncontested divorce also entails the mutual agreement of dividing assets or liabilities. That is not always the case with a contested one, as the trial judge may order the sale of property for equitable division, even if that is not in the best interests of one or both spouses. The results of a contested divorce may be less flexible or challenging to handle compared to an uncontested process. Child custody is also handled the same way as the decisions are made with priority to the children rather than the spouses for contested divorces.