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How are contested and uncontested divorces different?

Once upon a time, divorce was an arduous undertaking. The advent of “no-fault” laws has changed things, making it easier than ever for a couple to part ways.

However, splitting couples still have to make a lot of decisions, including whether they can proceed with an uncontested divorce…or not. Here’s what that means, and why it matters:

Can you agree on all significant matters?

In essence, an uncontested divorce is only possible when a couple can come to some kind of agreement on all major issues. This would include what constitutes the marital estate and what doesn’t, how the marital assets and debts will be fairly divided and what kind of support (if any) one spouse needs to pay the other. If there are children involved, then custody would also have to be settled.

When couples cannot agree on any significant issue and all other attempts to find a resolution have failed, a divorce becomes “contested.” This generally means moving to litigation and putting the final decision over the conflict in the court’s hands.

It’s important not to rule out an uncontested divorce too early. While a couple may initially be at sharp odds over a few issues, they may eventually find some common ground as their priorities start to crystalize and they negotiate trades and compromises.

Uncontested divorces are often preferable to contested ones because they’re cheaper, faster and less likely to produce long-term animosity between co-parents. They also leave the couple with more power over their family’s future, instead of handing that power over to a judge.

When should you opt for a contested divorce?

Sometimes, a contested divorce really is the better option. If you suspect that your spouse has a mental health issue that prevents them from making reasonable, rational agreements and sticking with them, the court can force them to stay on track. When your spouse is clearly full of rage and trying to manipulate the mechanics of your divorce for some kind of revenge, the court can put limits on their behavior and make sure the process is fair.

Ultimately, the best approach for your divorce is going to be dictated by the specifics of your situation. Learning more about your options can help you make the best choices.