There are a variety of ways to resolve a divorce, but some of the most popular are uncontested and contested divorce. If you're heading into a divorce, you're probably hearing these terms a lot and might wonder, "what's the right choice for me?"
That's precisely what we're exploring in today's blog. We'll give you a run-down of what exactly contested and uncontested divorce entail and provide you with information that can help you decide which method is right for you.
What Is a Contested Divorce?
When people hear the word "divorce" and picture a courtroom battle where two spouses dispute the terms of their divorce in court, they're imagining a contested divorce. While media makes contested divorce seem like the end-all-be-all of the divorce process, in reality, the vast majority of court cases are settled out of court.
Contested in-court divorces can be expensive, drawn-out endeavors. Every divorce case is different, but the process for a contested in-court divorce typically looks something like:
- One party files for divorce with the family law court in their county;
- They serve their spouse a notice of the divorce;
- The parties hire lawyers to represent them in court, or choose to represent themselves;
- The court holds hearings in which the attorneys argue their client's case and try to establish equitable terms for the divorce;
- If the parties reach an agreement, they can settle the divorce out of court;
- If the parties cannot agree, even after extended negotiations, the court can issue a court-ordered divorce decree laying out terms for the divorce the judge deems equitable.
At this point, you may be wondering what the alternative is. That brings us to...
What Is Uncontested Divorce?
An uncontested divorce occurs when two parties agree on terms for the divorce.
Many divorces start out contested but transform into an uncontested divorce once the spouses have time to speak with their attorneys, understand the divorce process, and negotiate more with their soon-to-be-ex.
Many family law courts consider a contested in-court divorce resulting in a court-ordered divorce decree to be a worst-case scenario. That's because, when the court decides a divorce for two parties, it removes either spouse's agency in the process. Judges generally want to avoid that, since they assume each spouse knows what's best for them (and each other) better than the court.
As a result, many family law courts try to use methods of alternative dispute resolution, like mediation, to transform a contested divorce into an uncontested divorce.
Is Uncontested or Contested Divorce Right for Me?
The answer depends on the unique aspects of your divorce case.
While contested in-court divorces can be more combative and costly than an uncontested divorce, they do have positive aspects. For example, most courts require a contested in-court divorce when a factor like domestic violence plays a role in the divorce, since having a judge oversee the process can help protect the divorcees' rights and prevent power imbalances in the relationship from playing a role in the outcome.
Alternatively, if you want to remain on good terms with your soon-to-be-ex and want a faster, less stressful way to dissolve your marriage, an uncontested divorce may be the better option.
You should consult your divorce attorney before making decisions about how to pursue your divorce.
At The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller, we help clients in Virginia find the best path forward in the divorce process.