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What is the difference between contested and uncontested divorce?

What is the difference between contested and uncontested divorce?

In many ways, a marriage is can treated like a legal contract, and as a result, when the partners involved in that marriage decide they no longer work as a couple, a divorce becomes a necessity for legally terminating the marriage agreement. In California there are two different types of divorce agreements – those considered ‘contested’ and those considered ‘uncontested.’

The difference between these two types of divorces is, on the surface, rather simple. A divorce is considered uncontested if both parties involved have agreed to all the stipulations regarding their separation beforehand, and neither one argues about any aspect of the divorce filing before it is adjudicated. In contrast, a contested divorce occurs when one or both parties cannot come to an agreement regarding the way in which their marriage should be terminated, and time before a judge is required to resolve any remaining issues, including any disputes over:

  • Child custody and support
  • Division of community property and assets
  • Allocation of community debts
  • Alimony and other forms of spousal support

Most divorces are contested – splitting up a marriage is often a stressful time, and many people find it better to settle their disputes in court, with the assistance of legal counsel. By hiring an attorney and bringing their divorce before a judge, divorcees ensure that every aspect of the divorce is presented in open court and both parties have a chance to resolve any problems regarding child custody, division of property, spousal support and any other key issues that arise.

In many ways, an uncontested divorce is simpler, more convenient, and less expensive to arrange. The divorce arrangements are made and agreed upon predominantly out of court, in many cases never going before a judge at all – with the common exception being child custody. If children are involved – particularly minor children – often the court will refer the case to mediators in order to conduct interviews and give recommendations about who should retain custody of the children and if (and how much) child support is necessary to best serve the interests of the child.. If these recommendations are objected to in any part, often an uncontested divorce may become contested, and the case will proceed before a judge.

Uncontested divorces present a dangerous pitfall in their apparent simplicity, however. It is easy to think that simply having the divorce over and done with is better than going to court and fighting, and some people agree to uncontested divorces without even consulting an attorney. This can end up costing divorcees a great deal more than attorney fees – if they sign a binding agreement that they do not fully understand, they may risk signing away rights that they did not intend to give up. Even in a supposedly simple divorce, the experience and insight of an attorney is crucial, so that you know exactly what you’re getting when you finalize your divorce.