Ending a marriage is never easy — and it can be even harder when a divorce is contested. A contested divorce can be lengthy, expensive, and highly emotional depending upon the issues that must be resolved. Contested cases can be even more complex when children are involved.
In some situations, proceeding with a contested divorce might be unavoidable. However, because of the ramifications a contested divorce can have on you and your children, it’s important to know your options and consider whether any alternatives are viable.
What is a Contested Divorce?
A contested divorce is one in which the spouses cannot reach an agreement concerning some aspect of the divorce. The respondent spouse might disagree with something the petitioning spouse is asking for — or any of the final terms of the divorce. Issues can arise at any time during the legal process turning an uncontested case into a contested one. But if a couple does not agree on one or more issues that need to be decided from the outset, a divorce case can be filed initially as a contested matter.
What is the Contested Divorce Process?
The first step in a contested divorce matter is filing the petition with the court and serving it upon the other spouse. In order to file for divorce, you must have grounds to do so. Although several legal grounds exist, California recognizes no-fault divorce. This means that you only need to establish irreconcilable differences between you and your spouse to obtain a divorce. Critically, even if a divorce is a contested matter, you can still use the no-fault grounds.
Once your petition has been filed and served, your case will be placed on the court calendar. You will then be required to appear before the judge. Throughout the duration of the proceedings, a series of conferences will be scheduled at which you will discuss the issues in the case with the judge.
Both inside and outside the courtroom, the attorneys for both sides will work to negotiate a settlement between the parties. The length of time a contested divorce can take is based on how many issues must be resolved and whether motion practice is necessary.
After a settlement has been reached regarding every issue in the case — or the court determines the outcome in litigation — the judge will issue the final divorce judgment. Also known as a divorce decree, this is the document that outlines the terms of the divorce and legally concludes the marriage.
What Issues Must Be Decided in a Contested Divorce?
Regardless of whether a divorce is contested or uncontested, courts encourage the parties to compromise and work to achieve a settlement outside the courtroom. But if the spouses cannot reach an agreement among themselves, the court will determine the outcome in litigation after hearing the arguments of each party.
The following issues must be resolved before the court will issue a divorce judgment:
- Property division — California is a community property state, meaning each spouse typically owns one-half of all property acquired during the marriage. All kinds of property must be divided in a divorce, including the marital home, vehicles, furniture, etc.
- Alimony — If one spouse earned substantially more than the other during the marriage, the dependent spouse might be entitled to alimony payments after the divorce.
- Child custody — Physical and legal custody of the children must be decided before the judge will sign a divorce decree. If the parties cannot work out child custody on their own, the court will decide the matter based on what is in the best interests of the children.
- Child support — Both parents have a legal obligation to financially support their children, regardless of with whom they live.
- Distribution of assets and debts — Any assets acquired during the marriage are subject to division, including retirement accounts and digital assets. In addition, both parties are responsible for paying debts incurred while married. Marital debts are divided equally during divorce.
If any of the above issues are contested, divorce can be time-consuming and costly. Spouses might consider an alternative to litigation to resolve disputed matters outside of court.
Alternatives to Contested Divorce
It’s important to understand that litigation isn’t the only way to resolve issues in a divorce. No matter how contentious the case may be, mediation can be an effective way to reach a settlement. During mediation, a trained neutral professional works with the parties to facilitate healthy communication. Mediation can be a cost-effective and faster way to resolve any disputed issues in a divorce. It can be particularly beneficial when it comes to working out child custody-related matters.
Similarly, collaborative divorce is another alternative to contested divorce that couples who are parting ways might consider. When utilizing this process, a team of professionals is assembled based on the issues in the case. As with mediation, spouses can negotiate the terms and conditions of their divorce in a neutral and private setting during the collaborative process. However, both spouses must be willing to participate in order for collaborative divorce to work.
Contact an Experienced Fresno Divorce Attorney
If your divorce is contested, it’s crucial to have the representation of a knowledgeable divorce attorney who can best advise you regarding your legal rights and options. Providing compassionate counsel and skillful advocacy, The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks is committed to protecting the rights of clients facing divorce and obtaining 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 20 years. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559) 272-8359.