A contested divorce is one of the lengthiest, most expensive, and most complicated ways of ending a marriage. While there are procedures out there like divorce mediation that can seamlessly lead to a married couple’s separation, contested divorce occurs when couples cannot agree on one or more important issues regarding their marriage. And because those couples cannot or won’t reach an amiable decision together, a judge will do it for them.
What Is a Contested Divorce?
A contested divorce is a type of divorce in which the separating parties cannot agree on one or multiple issues and they, thus, must take their case to a court. The most common causes couple fight over are also the most common issues divorcing couples cannot agree upon, such as:
- Children (child custody and child support)
- Assets (division of martial property and debt allocation)
- Spousal support (alimony).
If couples cannot agree on one or several of these issues, they’ll ask a divorce mediator or a court to help them reach a settlement. While divorce mediation gives separating parties more control of the divorce settlement, a contested divorce comes with less flexibility and couples may end up with a decision they are not happy with.
For instance, a judge may decide to sell the couple’s house and split the money between the two, even though one of the parties would have wanted the house for themselves. The same goes for child custody and other critical issues.
Contested Divorce vs Uncontested Divorce
There are several key differences between a contested divorce and an uncontested divorce couples may want to consider before picking one over the other.
- Contested divorce takes considerably more time to resolve than an uncontested divorce – On average a contested divorce takes around 18 months while an uncontested divorce is usually finalized in 9 months. In some states, if there is no “cooling off” period, the divorce can take as little as 60 days.
- Contested divorce is more expensive than uncontested divorce. Because of its length, complicated proceedings, and the need for skilled attorneys, a contested divorce may set couples back thousands of dollars more than an uncontested divorce.
- In a contested divorce, separating couples have less control over the final divorce settlement. Because the divorcing spouses cannot reach an amiable decision together, a judge will be calling the shots for them. This means that the final decisions may not always align with separating couple’s interests.
Contested Divorce: What to Expect?
In a contested divorce, you’ll have to hire a divorce attorney in order to help you determine what you’re entitled to and to do all the paperwork for you. A divorce attorney will draft your divorce petition, file it with a court, and make sure that it reaches your spouse.
Once the petition is served to the other divorcing party, that party must offer an answer within 30 days or the divorce may complete with a default judgment of divorce. If your spouse does respond, the divorce moves to trial.
If you don’t know where your spouse currently lives, the divorce petition can be published in a local newspaper. The petition can be served in person, or by an official such as a sheriff’s deputy, or by your attorney.
There is a phase of the trial called “discovery” during which separating couples learn more about their rights and obligations. During this phase, spouses can request temporary orders regarding their children and spousal support in court. One of the spouses can try to slow down the divorce proceedings during this phase by failing to respond to discovery requests, missing deadlines, or hiding assets. That’s why it is important during this phase to have an experienced divorce attorney on your side.
The judge may try to persuade both of you to reach an amiable agreement pre-trial. He or she may order you to go into divorce mediation and let a mediator help you negotiate the critical issues regarding your marriage such as child custody, debt, and asset division. If divorce mediation fails, the divorce will be scheduled for court.
During trial, the separating couples will fight for their rights in front of a judge in a family court by bringing evidence, witnesses, and making closing arguments. For instances, witnesses can help you prove that your children will have to suffer if they end up in your spouse’s custody. Children may be summoned in court too. That’s why, divorce lawsuits can be emotionally taxing on both separating parties and their children.
When couples cannot agree on one or several critical issues regarding their marriage, they may decide to take the divorce to trial and let a judge decide on those issues for them. A contested divorce takes more time, is usually more expensive, and more emotionally taxing than an uncontested divorce or mediation.
Because there are so many factors to take into account when debating over things like child custody, property division, or spousal support, you’ll need help from an experienced attorney from the get-go. A family lawyer can change the outcome to your advantage and keep you on the top of your spouse if he or she is trying to hide assets or unnecessarily drag out the legal proceedings.