Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce: What’s the Difference?

There are two types of divorces — those that are contested and those that are uncontested. Simply put, a contested divorce is one in which spouses do not agree on any number of issues that must be resolved before a judge will sign the decree. Generally, an uncontested divorce is one where the spouses can resolve their issues outside of court. However, there may be pros and cons to each type of proceeding, depending on the specific facts of your divorce case.

What is an Uncontested Divorce?

In an uncontested divorce, both spouses usually agree on the issues that must be determined before the marriage can be legally ended. These issues include alimony, child support, child custody, property distribution, and debt division. A divorce matter that is uncontested from the beginning may not even need to be heard by a judge. Relationships that work well for uncontested divorces are usually those in which there are few assets and no children.

While an uncontested divorce can seem straightforward, there are certain situations that do not work well for this process. These situations can include cases involving physical or emotional abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse. In addition, a fair agreement is unlikely to be reached in an uncontested divorce when a spouse is suspected of hiding assets, or one or both spouses are attempting to alienate the affections of the children.

What is a Contested Divorce?

A contested divorce is one where the spouses do not agree on one or more issues. While the level of conflict can vary — based on the specific circumstances of the parties and the issues in the case — a contentious divorce can be time-consuming, emotionally draining, and costly. The amount of time it can take to resolve a contested divorce can depend on how many issues must be resolved and whether it is necessary to engage in motion practice.

Contested divorces tend to be complex and usually involve lengthy litigation. Depending on the issues in the case, extensive “discovery” may need to be conducted. This is the process in which information relevant to the disputed issue is gathered by each side. However, even if a case is headed to trial, it can still be settled at any time before the judge issues a ruling.

What Issues Must Be Determined in Divorce?

Whether you are moving forward with a contested or uncontested divorce, there are specific issues that will need to be decided. While spouses determine the outcome between themselves in an uncontested divorce, a judge typically makes a ruling on one or more of the issues when a divorce matter is contested.

The issues that must be resolved in a divorce include the following:

  • Child Custody — California courts typically favor joint physical and legal custody arrangements whenever possible. It’s best for parents to settle custody matters outside of court, but if a judge must decide the outcome, they will render a decision that applies the “best interests of the child” standard.
  • Child Support — Unless parents can reach a settlement, the court will determine how much child support will be paid by the noncustodial parent. Child support payments are calculated based on a number of factors, including the amount of time spent with a child, earnings, number of children, tax filings, health insurance expenses, day care costs, and any special needs the children have.
  • Asset Division — California is a community property state. This means that all assets earned during the marriage are considered marital property and divided equally between the spouses.
  • Debt Division — Debts are considered community property. Thus, they are also divided equally in a divorce.
  • Alimony — If one spouse earned substantially more than the other, alimony might be awarded to the economically dependent spouse after divorce.

Divorce is always emotionally charged. But if any of the above issues are disputed, the divorce process can be lengthier and significantly more expensive. Mediation, negotiation, the collaborative process, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution can often be effective methods of reaching a settlement. They can also be particularly useful to reduce cost, time spent on litigation, and ensure amiability for the purposes of co-parenting when children are involved in a case.

Contact an Experienced Fresno Divorce Attorney

Whether your divorce is contested or uncontested, it’s essential to have the representation of an experienced divorce attorney who can protect your legal rights and guide you through the divorce process. Providing compassionate counsel and adept advocacy, The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks is dedicated to helping clients who are facing divorce obtain positive results in their cases. The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks has been assisting clients throughout Fresno and the surrounding area with their divorce and family law matters for more than two decades. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559) 272-8359.