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Divorce | Family

What Are the Different Types of Divorce

11 min read
Unbundled Legal Help

by Unbundled Legal Help

The result of every divorce is the same: the dissolution of a marriage. The varieties of divorce lead to the same outcome. Contested divorces are what everybody is familiar with. But there are other methods available to couples who wish to end their marriage. 

The types of divorce available to you will vary depending on the state where you live and your circumstances. The variety of divorce includes contested divorce, uncontested divorce, mediated divorce, fault, and no-fault divorce, collaborative divorce, arbitration, negotiated settlement, and more. 

If you are considering a divorce, we can connect you today with an unbundled divorce lawyer in your area before starting the process. Learn more about the different types of divorce below.

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce

TV shows and movies usually sensationalize the divorce process. A typical scene includes intense emotional disagreements that often cost a lot of money and time. This can be true of some contested divorces. Of course, uncontested divorces can be less expensive, and relatively peaceful. 

Learn about the differences between uncontested divorces and contested divorces below. 

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce

A contested divorce is just as it sounds. It occurs when spouses cannot agree on one or more major divorce-related issues. Generally speaking, these contested divorces are more expensive; they cause the most emotional anguish and can take the longest to conclude. 

Contested divorces often involve multiple hearings, motions filed by both parties, a document discovery process, court system delays, subpoenas, evaluations, testimony, etc. Spouses that experience a contested divorce usually have disputes about issues such as:

  • Child support, spousal support, alimony issues
  • Division of assets (i.e., property, stocks, etc.)
  • Division of debts
  • Child custody and visitation rights

When couples don’t settle before beginning a divorce trial, they relinquish control over the most important decisions to a family court judge. It is typically best to consult with an experienced divorce attorney regardless of which kind of divorce you opt for. However, it is especially recommended for those caught in the process of a contested divorce. 

What Is an Uncontested Divorce?

By contrast, uncontested divorces are a good option when both spouses can effectively negotiate and agree to the terms of their divorce without the need for a court trial. If you and your spouse can reach an agreement on divorce-related disputes, an uncontested divorce is usually the best option. It takes far less time, it is less of an emotional drain, and it can result in significantly lower legal fees. 

Fault and No-Fault Divorce

In the past, when a person wanted to get divorced, they needed to prove the split was the fault of their spouse. Some states still recognize an at-fault divorce. However, all states now allow spouses to file a “no-fault” divorce. 

In a no-fault divorce, there is no requirement to prove blame on one partner or the other for the divorce. Instead, you only just need to tell the family court that you and a spouse want to go your separate ways. You file your divorce due to “irreconcilable differences” or an “irremediable breakdown” in your marriage. 

Types of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes provide divorcing spouses with an alternative method to resolve their differences. The goal of ADR is to reach a settlement agreement without going through a divorce trial. Some of the most common forms of ADR include mediation, collaborative divorce, and arbitration. Learn more about each below. 

Mediated Divorce

Divorce mediation involves couples attending mediation sessions led by a neutral, third-party, who is a professionally trained mediator. Mediators assist couples with communication issues, how to negotiate differences, and how to draft a divorce settlement agreement.

Some couples chose private mediation sessions to resolve their disputes. Others are court-ordered to attend a mediation program. It should be noted that private mediation is a more expensive option, by far. 

 You do not have to hire an attorney for mediation sessions. However, if you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement during your mediation sessions, a family court judge may follow the recommendations of your mediator when making a final ruling on the terms of your divorce. 

An adept divorce lawyer helps ensure that your rights are protected, drafted agreements are fair to you, and can also assist you in negotiations with your spouse, and legal representation. 

What is Co-Mediation?

Mediation offers so many benefits, but it is not always an easy process. Some couples opt for co-mediation because their issues seem more complex and they are not making progress toward a resolution. Co-mediation involves two or more mediators who work with each party separately to resolve divorce-related disputes. 

Collaborative Divorce

The collaborative divorce process involves you and your spouse at work with your lawyers to settle disputes and reach an agreement on your divorce without going to trial. As the name suggests, this type of divorce requires both parties to cooperate (and with their respective lawyers) then work towards a resolution that fits well for both parties. 

If you are unable to settle disputes with the collaborative divorce process, you should consider changing horses. You can halt work with your current divorce lawyer and hire a new one who you want to represent you during the trial. 


Divorce arbitration is not as common as mediation or collaborative divorce. Couples should be aware of this route if negotiations reach an impasse after other forms of alternative dispute resolution have been tried. In arbitration meetings, couples agree to have their case heard in a courtroom-like environment overseen by a divorce arbitrator. 

When the hearing concludes, the arbitrator issues an award. Rulings made in arbitration can’t be appealed. This is a method of ADR that can be used to resolve individual issues between you and your spouse, while other forms of negotiation continue. 

Types of Divorce Litigation 

Alternative dispute resolution will not work for every couple. In some cases, couples who can’t reach an agreement during their ADR process decide to work with their attorneys and reach an agreement through a negotiated settlement. Other couples end up going to a divorce trial. 

Negotiated Settlement

During a negotiated settlement, attorneys from both parties attempt to negotiate an agreement for their respective clients. In many cases, each party has to compromise more than they wanted during this process. However, it allows the two sides to be flexible, they can save money, and also keep the terms of their divorce private. 

Divorce Trial

If your case goes to trial, a judge will make their final ruling after hearing the evidence presented by both sides., The court hears evaluations from experts, recommendations of professionals, trial testimony, and follows applicable state laws. There are negatives to going the court option. 

The divorce trial process often takes months (in some cases up to a year) to resolve. By default, you have to pay more to your divorce attorney. There is the added cost of professional evaluations, etc. Furthermore, you essentially give up your right to influence important divorce-related matters because the trial process is under the control of the judge.

Much of the information presented during divorce hearings (including embarrassing personal details) become public knowledge. This is often problematic, especially in high-profile cases. 

Other Divorce Options

Fortunately, there are multiple routes to take for a divorce. If one method isn’t working for you, there are other options to choose from. For example, there is a summary divorce, a default divorce, and an annulment. Although all of these may not apply to your situation, they can be helpful to consider as alternatives to trial. 

Check with your divorce lawyer before making your final decision on which method of divorce works best for your situation. Learn more about other divorce options below. 

Summary Divorce

A summary divorce is essentially a simplified version of the typical divorce process. It makes the divorce process easier, faster, and less expensive. Most states offer some form of summary divorce to couples who qualify. It is recommended that you check your state’s divorce laws to understand what is required of you and your spouse. 

In general, eligibility for a summary divorce may require the following: 

  • You’ve been married for a relatively short amount of time (less than 8 years)
  • There are no children involved 
  • Your case doesn’t involve a significant amount of assets, debts, property, etc.
  • Spousal support is not requested by either spouse

Default Divorce

A default divorce is not something most people would opt for. It allows for the divorce to be finalized without one of the spouses participating in the process. These can work if one spouse isn’t abiding by court rules, hasn’t responded to complaints, and/or is missing court dates.

Most family court judges prefer not to issue default judgments. Remember, if you have received an initial complaint through the court, enlist the help of your family law lawyer and respond as quickly as possible. 


Depending on the circumstances in your case, your state may grant an annulment. An annulment is not a divorce at all. It is the legal process that makes your marriage null and void, almost like it never happened. Some of the more common reasons that an annulment will be granted include cases that involve incest, bigamy, underage marriage, insanity, acts of fraud, etc. 

How Is Legal Separation Different than Divorce?

Divorce and legal separation can accomplish many of the same goals. They each create physical space between you and your spouse. They formalize custodial arrangements, division of property. However, note that divorce is permanent; legal separations can be reversed. Oddly enough, some states require couples to legally separate as a condition for filing a divorce. 

People choose legal separations for many reasons. Some of the more common include:

  • Religious or personal beliefs about divorce
  • Allows couples time to decide what they want to do
  • Considerations for pension, social security, and death benefits to the surviving spouse

What Is the Cheapest Way to Divorce?

The answer to this question will depend on many factors starting with the state where you live. The next is the complexity of your divorce, and whether or not you and your spouse can reach an agreement before going to court. 

In general, couples who can successfully negotiate on their own or through some type of ADR can expect to spend a lot less money on their overall costs for the divorce than a couple who takes their case to trial. The average cost of divorce in the U.S. is north of $15,000. It makes sense to leverage every money-saving opportunity available. 

If you are currently considering divorce, it is in your best interest to work with your spouse to find win-win solutions to your disputes and connect with an experienced divorce lawyer. 

Do I Even Need a Lawyer To Get a Divorce?

Technically, no. You are not required to hire a family law attorney to divorce. However, attempting a do-It-yourself divorce often results in longer trials, costly mistakes, unfair settlement agreements, and unfavorable rulings. 

Divorce lawyers provide their clients with many benefits such as:

  • Knowledge of your state’s laws 
  • Support with filing forms, motions, drafting documents, etc.
  • Help with paperwork and producing necessary documents 
  • Reduced stress and a knowledgeable party to discuss your concerns with

If you are concerned about the cost of divorce, you’re not alone. The typical divorce lawyer charges an upfront fee of $3k-$5k and an additional $300-$500 per hour on top of that. 

Fortunately, with unbundled legal services, you can save thousands of dollars in upfront fees by hiring an unbundled attorney to handle certain aspects of your case while you handle the rest. Learn more about unbundled legal services below. 

How Can Unbundled Legal Services Save Me Money on Legal Fees? 

It’s no secret that the cost of a divorce lawyer is expensive for most people. However, you do not have to risk the most important aspects of your life by representing yourself in a divorce. An unbundled lawyer helps you with the parts of your case that you need help with, while you take care of the rest on your own and save money. 

With unbundled legal services, you can hire a family lawyer to help you with your case for as low as $500-$1500. 

Before you spend thousands of dollars in upfront legal fees, get connected with an unbundled attorney, and learn if your case is a good fit to be unbundled today.

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