difference between contested and uncontested divorce

Contested Vs. Uncontested Divorce

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If thoughts of divorce run through your mind and you ask yourself where to begin, one place to start is by assessing your situation. Do you expect a contested or uncontested divorce?

Some divorces are simple and straightforward. Depending on the circumstances, it’s often possible to end a marriage with a minimum of fuss and muss. You’re always going to deal with paperwork, motions, and other speed bumps, but you can often avoid some common mishaps.

Contested vs Uncontested Divorce: How Are They Different?

By the time you get to the point where you’re ready to file for divorce, you’re probably done with your marriage. Odds are, you just want to get the whole thing over ASAP.

In many cases, perhaps most, taking the fastest route isn’t necessarily the best idea. People often agree to unfavorable terms in custody, division of property, and other areas just to have it finished.

Before you begin, try to get an accurate, honest picture of your case.

We’ll break down the differences between a contested and uncontested divorce, what each means, and how your case fits.

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Uncontested Divorce

Simply put, an uncontested divorce means both spouses agree on all related issues. However, even if both spouses agree, you still must meet specific legal requirements.

An uncontested divorce usually offers an easier, quicker option than the other route. The process bypasses much of the stress and many of the legal fees that come in less amicable divorces.

However, while the idea of an uncontested divorce sounds straightforward, complications frequently arise.

Both spouses need to be on at least semi-cordial terms throughout. This requires the ability to work together to reach mutually agreed-upon resolutions, which is often easier said than done.

In an uncontested divorce, you still have to resolve all the usual issues. You split all the marital assets and debts, settle on spousal support, and establish a custody plan and child support if you have kids.

As often happens, children complicate the process. Sometimes, even if the parents agree upon a parenting plan, the court likes to take a closer look. They want to make sure the plan is fair, child support payments are adequate, and that it genuinely represents the child’s best interests.

Related Reading: What Is Divorce Mediation?

To qualify for an uncontested divorce:

You or your spouse must be legal residents of Washington.

That seems obvious, but you must meet even the most basic requirements. However, only one of you must live in-state in order for the courts to file for an uncontested divorce in Washington.

You and your spouse agree to divorce.

Again, this sounds obvious, but both parties must agree to end the marriage. If one party doesn’t want to, that doesn’t mean you can’t divorce—Washington is a no-fault divorce state after all—but it does hinder uncontested divorce.

You and your spouse agree on everything.

For an uncontested divorce to work, it truly has to be uncontested. This means you and your spouse agree on everything. This includes the allocation of both debts and assets if you have any. If you have children, this means child custody, child support, and visitation arrangements.

Uncontested divorce doesn’t mean there’s no conflict. Ending a marriage still requires work and compromise on both sides. But when you and your spouse agree on most things and can work together to negotiate the rest, you may be able to sidestep a lengthy, expensive process.

Related Reading: The Divorce Decree: What You Need to Know

Contested Divorce

A contested divorce is, as it sounds, a situation where spouses have substantial disagreements.

While both contested and uncontested divorces should have representation, contested divorce usually requires the use of an attorney to reach a final agreement. There’s a lot more to deal with, thus more places where you will likely need a hand.

When most people picture divorce, they think of contested divorce. They get complicated and messy. Spouses are often on bad terms and there can be a great deal of conflict.

Before finalizing a contested divorce:

    • The divorce petition must be prepared, filed, and served to the opposing party.
    • The petitioner must receive a response to the petition.
    • All documents for discovery must be prepared and submitted.
    • Any pre-trial legal motions and hearings must be held.
    • You must hold mediation to assess if the divorce can be finalized outside of court.
    • If the mediation fails, the next step is to go to trial where a judge decides the terms and allocation of assets for the final divorce decree.

While not as common as you think, if a divorce does end up going to trial, both spouses present their cases. This includes calling witnesses, cross-examinations, introducing evidence, and more.

The whole process ends with a judge ruling on all the matters at hand

With so much more to deal with, contested divorce often drags on for months or even years. It often proves difficult and costs a great deal, both in terms of money and emotional investment.

But in many cases, it also presents the only way to settle the division of property, custody, support payments, and other issues once and for all.

Speak with A Divorce Attorney

Regardless of whether your divorce is contested or uncontested, it’s a good idea to consult a divorce attorney. No matter how amicable a split, things can and frequently do go sideways in a hurry.

An experienced professional will advise you on the best course of action or at least look at an agreement to make sure it’s fair and in your best interests.

Related Reading: What is the Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce?

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