What Is the Difference Between Contested and Uncontested Divorces?

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Divorce Law
This article was reviewed and approved for publication by Attorney Charlotte Christian.

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In an uncontested divorce, the spouses settle all their issues without having to go to trial. Alternatively, if there are unresolved disputes between the couple, it leads to a contested divorce.

Some people incorrectly assume that an uncontested divorce means that one spouse lets the other spouse have their way about everything. That is not the case. Our family law attorneys can explain the difference between contested and uncontested divorces and prepare you for either scenario in your divorce proceedings.

An Overview of Uncontested Divorce

According to Alabama State Bar, most divorces today are uncontested, meaning both spouses agree to the divorce. They usually sign a written agreement that contains all the terms of the divorce, covering factors like child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, debts, and distribution of assets.

Today, most divorces are also no-fault divorces, which means that you do not have to prove marital misconduct. The American Bar Association (ABA) says that when a marriage is irretrievably broken, the parties are incompatible, or there are irreconcilable differences, those situations could be grounds for a no-fault divorce.

If your divorce is uncontested, it means that you have agreed on all of the issues applicable to your situation, and you will not have to go to trial. Some divorces are uncontested from the beginning of the process, but many others start with some unresolved issues that the parties settle before trial.

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An Overview of Contested Divorce

A contested divorce means that you and your spouse disagree on at least one issue in your dissolution of marriage—dissolution of marriage is another term for divorce. For example, some people disagree about who will have custody of the children or the percentage of time each parent will have with the children.

In some cases, the dispute might be only about the schedule of visitation. The visitation schedule can impact the amount of child support that one parent must pay to the other. Whatever the subject of the dispute, if the parties do not resolve it amongst themselves, through the lawyers negotiating, using a mediator, or by the parties talking to each other, eventually, the case will have to go to trial.

Ways to Resolve Disputes in a Contested Divorce

The vast majority of divorces get settled without having to go through a full trial. Even when a trial has started, it is possible to resolve the remaining disputes. Most areas of disagreement in contested divorces get resolved in one or more of these ways:

  • The lawyers negotiate with each other. After the lawyers exchange financial documentation, interrogatories (written questions answered under oath), and other types of discovery during the pretrial process, they often negotiate with each other by letter, email, telephone calls, and in-person meetings. Most contested divorces that settle get resolved this way.
  • The lawyers discuss the contested issue with the judge at a hearing or settlement conference. In this scenario, they seek the judge’s guidance on how the court might rule if the case went to trial. If one lawyer or client is adamant about a particular issue, knowing how the judge is likely to rule can help settle the issue.
  • The spouses talk to each other and work out an agreement on the issues in dispute. In litigation, the parties are usually not allowed to talk to each other—they are supposed to go through their lawyers. In a divorce, spouses are not forced to talk to each other directly, but they are allowed to if they agree to do so.
  • The parties use a mediator to help the spouses reach an agreement about the contested issues. A mediator is a neutral third party who talks to both spouses with or without their attorneys and tries to help the two sides find the middle ground. However, the mediator does not make the decisions on any of the contested terms.

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Benefits of Resolving a Contested Divorce Without Trial

If you manage to resolve your contested divorce without going to trial, you can save yourself a great deal of time and money. Your divorce could be over much sooner if you don’t have to wait for a decision by the judge. It could be weeks or months after the trial before a decree gets signed.

Trials are expensive. It is usually in the best interest of both spouses to reach a fair settlement instead of incurring attorney fees and other litigation costs. You could use the money you save to fund your new life.

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What to Expect If You Have to Go to Trial on Your Contested Divorce

If your spouse refuses to agree to a fair settlement, your divorce case will have to go to trial. Alabama law does not force you to have a lawyer represent you in your divorce, but having one on your side can bring a significant advantage to your case.

The judge will expect you to know the law and the procedural rules. Our divorce attorneys can ensure that you are prepared to navigate this process. You can call Charlotte Christian Law today for a case evaluation.

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