What’s the Difference Between a Contested Divorce and an Uncontested Divorce?

Hossein Berenji, Jan 17, 2019

Donald Trump, Jr. was served with divorce papers in early 2018. His wife, Vanessa, had filed for an uncontested divorce in a New York City court, hoping the process would unfold smoothly. Months later, the couple’s divorce proceedings are now classified as contested. This indicates that the couple hit a few bumps in the road as they navigated their divorce.

What is an uncontested divorce? What is a contested divorce? Is sone better than the other? Why would an uncontested matter suddenly be classified as contested? These are all important questions if you’re thinking about getting divorced. Our attorneys explain the differences between uncontested and contested divorces in California.

Two Types of Divorce Proceedings

There are two ways divorce proceedings can unfold in California: uncontested and contested. The type of divorce you have will impact how much your divorce costs and how long it takes to resolve.

What is an Uncontested Divorce?

Divorces cannot be finalized until spouses agree on all relevant terms. This includes issues like property division, child custody and visitation, child support, and alimony. An uncontested divorce occurs when there are no disputes about how these terms should be negotiated.

There are two ways you can have an uncontested divorce.

Spouses In Full Agreement

Your divorce will be classified as uncontested if you and your spouse agree about how the terms of your split will be resolved. You see eye to eye and have zero disagreements. Many spouses agree to an uncontested divorce because:

  • The split is amicable, and
  • Parents want to avoid putting children in the middle of a nasty divorce.

Example: You and your spouse have decided to get a divorce. You’ve grown apart and decided that it’s best to end the marriage. However, you don’t want things to be messy and you’d like to remain friends. There are no disputes about how property should be divided and you both agree to share custody of your children equally. Since there are no disputes, your divorce would be classified as uncontested.

Spouse Fails to Respond to Divorce Papers

One spouse, known as the petitioner, files a formal request for a divorce. The other spouse, known as the respondent, is served with divorce papers. The respondent has 30 days from the date he or she receives the divorce papers to respond. This response can say that the spouse agrees to an uncontested divorce or that he or she has issues with some of the requests. Either way, a response moves the divorce forward.

A divorce can be uncontested if the respondent fails to respond to the divorce papers. A judge can issue a default judgment in the petitioner’s favor and approve the terms he or she has requested.

What is a Contested Divorce?

A contested divorce occurs when spouses disagree about any or all of the terms of their split. Even a minor dispute over one small issue – such as who gets f the family car  – can be enough to trigger a contested divorce.

Contested divorces tend to take longer and cost more than uncontested divorces. Why? A judge will refuse to finalize a divorce if any terms are not resolved. Spouses often have to use tools and resources, such as mediation or arbitration, to help them find common ground.

When these private negotiations are unsuccessful, courts are required to step in and take control. A judge will hear both sides of a dispute and make a unilateral decision that affects both spouses. Whatever the court says is final and binding.

Example: You file for divorce and request sole custody of your two children. Your spouse is on board with getting divorced, but wants to share joint custody of the kids. Since you cannot agree on the terms of your divorce, it will be classified as contested. You’ll be required to find a compromise or let a court step in and decide for you.

Example: You and your spouse decide to get divorced. You agree about the terms before you file the petition with a Los Angeles court. Three months into the waiting period, your spouse decides that the property division agreement you drafted isn’t fair. Now they’re demanding the house in the divorce. Your once uncontested divorce has shifted to a contested divorce.

Navigating a divorce can be difficult, especially if it contested. It’s always best to work with an experienced divorce attorney. Don’t hesitate to call us for a free case evaluation today.