When someone calls my office inquiring about representation for a divorce case, the first thing I ask is whether it is contested or uncontested. In speaking with potential clients, I realized that many people don’t know the difference between the two or how each process works. So, here they are:
A contested divorce is one in which one spouse files a complaint for divorce with the court, has the other person served, and the two become litigants in opposite sides of a lawsuit. Contested cases can be resolved fairly easily or can become messy, complicated, emotional and downright ugly. Almost all contested divorces are going to involve a process of discovery, in which each side seeks information and documentation from the other side, regarding everything from financial statements to emails and texts messages exchanges with lovers. Most cases are also going to require the parties to participate in mediation, where the parties and their attorneys sit down with a neutral third party and attempt to negotiate a settlement to part or all of the issues in their case.
Many cases can be resolved at mediation, and therefore require only some additional paperwork to be filed, and perhaps a brief court appearance for the parties to present the agreement, the basis for the divorce, and the judge to incorporate the agreement into a final judgment and decree of divorce.
Other cases become hotly contested. These cases may involve huge amounts of discovery, multiple temporary hearings regarding custody, child support, alimony, and a host of other issues, to be resolved on a temporary basis, before ever reaching a final divorce. Then, once all the discovery has been exchanged, and each party is thoroughly entrenched in his or her position, the parties proceed to trial, either in front of a jury or in front of a judge. These cases take the longest and certainly cost the most.
An uncontested divorce is one in which the parties are able to reach an agreement regarding all aspects of their divorce prior to filing with the court. The parties sign all the necessary paperwork prior to filing. Often the assistance of an attorney is required to ensure that all issues are addressed in the settlement agreement, and that the agreement is legally sufficiently to be approved by the court. There are mandatory time periods involved with such cases, but typically, from start to finish, an uncontested divorce can be achieved in two to four months.
These divorces are going to be the least expensive, because the attorney’s representation is limited to ensuring that the agreement reached by the parties is legally prepared for presentation to the court, and that all legal requirements for a divorce have been met.