When two people decide mutually to file for a divorce, and are able to decide matters related to the divorce, such as property distribution, child custody support, and spousal support, without help from the court, it is considered to be an “uncontested divorce.” Uncontested divorces can save couples a great deal of time and money, as they are not depending on the judicial system to make such decisions, and generally don’t even require the services of an attorney. To explore this concept, consider the following uncontested divorce definition.
Definition of Uncontested Divorce
- A divorce in which the parties do not dispute or argue over such issues as property division, child custody, and support.
- A divorce that does not require the court to make decisions over disputed or contested issues.
What is an Uncontested Divorce
An uncontested divorce occurs when two people agree to get a divorce, and can work out issues related to the divorce between themselves. An uncontested divorce is a streamlined process in which the parties often need only file the divorce petition and related documents, as well as a settlement agreement, with the court. A judge reviews the information in the documents, and grants the divorce once everything is in order, without the need for a hearing. Courts prefer uncontested divorces, as they are generally beneficial to all parties, and do not place an additional burden on the court’s already-crowded trial schedule.
Requirements for an Uncontested Divorce
In most cases, uncontested divorces are easiest when a couple has no children and very few assets, as these are the issues many people argue over when they divorce. That is not to say that couples with children and a large amount of marital assets cannot get an uncontested divorce. There are certain elements that must be worked out before a divorce can be granted, and if the couple can come to an arrangement on all of them, submitting a written marital settlement agreement to the court, an uncontested divorce may work for them. The requirements for an uncontested divorce include:
- How to share parenting responsibilities, including a written parenting plan for custody and visitation.
- The amount of child support to be paid to the custodial parent.
- The amount of spousal support, if any, to be paid, and to which party.
- The division of marital property, financial assets, and debts.
It is important to note that, in some states, court proceedings regarding child custody and support are required if the couple has minor children.
Example of an Uncontested Divorce
Vince and Suzy were married three years when they decided to divorce. Suzy files a Petition for Divorce with the local family court, having the documents served on Vince. The couple has already had a talk about how to handle the divorce, so Vince files the required Answer to Divorce, and they start working out a settlement agreement. The couple has no children, so they need only decide how to divide up the marital assets, and whether any spousal support will be paid.
Vince and Suzy quickly decide how their property will be divided up, from the house, down to the photographs. In their state, Suzy is entitled to one-half of the amount of Vince’s retirement accrued during the course of their marriage. This is a difficult calculation that generally requires the hiring of a specialized accountant. Suzy decides to leave Vince’s retirement to him, and the couple settles on a spousal support amount of $300 per month for three years. The couple writes all of these details into a Marital Settlement Agreement and submits it to the court.
Once the court determines that all of the documents have been properly filed, and that the settlement agreement is acceptable to the court, the judge will finalize the divorce, issuing a Divorce Decree that states the date the couple’s divorce is effective.
A contested divorce is one in which the two parties cannot agree about getting a divorce, or about the terms of the divorce. Commonly, the couple will disagree on matters such as child custody, financial support, and the distribution of marital assets. When such issues are contested, the court gets involved, and hearings are scheduled, ultimately leading to a trial.
Child custody issues are handled separately from marital and property issues, usually being channeled through a court mediator to assess the situation and help the couple come to an agreement on a parenting plan. Even if the couple cannot come to a complete agreement about child custody and visitation, writing down whatever issues they agree upon helps ensure they are happier with the final custody order.
Even in a contested divorce, the parties may try to work through issues of dividing the marital assets and debts, writing down all of those items to which they are able to agree. Couples are often able to agree on the division of household items, such as furnishings, and even large ticket items, such as the house and mortgage. The issues that have already been agreed upon can then be presented to the court as a marital settlement agreement, leaving only the most contentious issues for the court to decide.
Example of a Contested Divorce
Dawn and Kenneth have been married six years when they separate and file for divorce in a flurry of bad words and hurt feelings. Kenneth moved out of the house, taking only what he could get into a couple of suitcases, then filed the divorce Petition with the local family court. Kenneth lists the couple’s property, including the home and family car, which he feels entitled to, as he worked full time to make the payments.
Dawn files the necessary Answer to Divorce, objecting to Kenneth’s claim of ownership of the house and other property, noting that she worked only part time so she could take care of the couple’s child. To make matters worse, Dawn refuses to allow Kenneth to take their son to visit at his apartment, saying he can’t take care of him like she can.
Because of the high level of animosity and anger in this separation, it is already a contested divorce. The couple has filed the same documents as Vince and Suzy in the above case, but will require the intervention of the court to determine how the marital assets and debts should be divided, as well as the issues of child custody, visitation, and child support.
Pros and Cons of an Uncontested Divorce
Like most major life changes, there are pros and cons of an uncontested divorce. When determining the type of divorce that works best for the couple in question, they should carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages for making this decision as it can have lasting effects.
One of the pros of an uncontested divorce is that a final divorce order is often granted much more quickly, as there is no need for hearings and a trial. This allows the couple to move on with their separate lives sooner. An uncontested divorce can also reduce the amount of conflict that arises between the two parties, which can be beneficial to the situation, especially if children are involved.
A con to an uncontested divorce may result if one spouse agrees to a settlement that he or she is not happy with solely for the purpose of avoiding conflict. That spouse may receive less than what would be considered fair when the marital assets are divided.
Uncontested Divorce Forms
Most people find that an uncontested divorce may be done without the need to hire an attorney, saving a great deal of money on legal fees. Uncontested divorce forms may be obtained from the local family court clerk, or may be downloaded from the court’s website, and many jurisdictions offer the services of a family court facilitator, who can help couples complete the necessary documents. Divorce forms must be filled out completely, and may include additional documents for child custody, child support, and division of marital property.
An uncontested divorce is filed using the same divorce Petition, called a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage,” in some jurisdictions. The parties simply complete the forms and attach a copy of their signed marital settlement agreement, letting the court know they have agreed to all of the issues. All of the rules regarding service of process and proper filing must still be followed, and the non-filing party must file an Answer to the petition. Because of these rules, and the number of forms that may be necessary, many people filing an uncontested divorce use the services of a Paralegal, or hire a divorce attorney simply for the document phase of the divorce.
In the event the parties decide at some point that they disagree on some important issues, and the divorce becomes a “contested” divorce, it is not necessary to file new forms. This is because there is no place to choose between a contested and uncontested divorce on the divorce Petition. The only thing that classifies a divorce as contested or uncontested is whether or not the parties can agree. The documents are the same.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Child Support – Court-ordered payments made by one parent to the other for the support of the couple’s minor children.
- Divorce – The legal dissolution of a marriage.
- Hearing – A proceeding before the court at which an issue of fact or law is heard, evidence presented, and a decision made.
- Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice
- Marital Assets – All property, financial assets, and debt acquired by the couple during the course of the marriage, regardless of who holds title to it.
- Marital Settlement Agreement – A written agreement setting forth terms for a divorce agreed to by the couple, covering such issues as child custody and support, spousal support, division of property and debt, and other relevant issues.
- Parenting Plan – A written plan and schedule for child custody and visitation that may be agreed to by the parents, or prepared by a court representative. The parenting plan is finalized and declared an order of the court.
- Spousal Support – An allowance paid to an individual by their former spouse after they divorce or separate.