Divorce | Family
What is an Uncontested Divorce?
by Philip Ahn, Attorney
If you and your spouse can agree on all divorce-related issues without the need to go to trial, an uncontested divorce is likely your best option. There are many advantages to an uncontested divorce and a few disadvantages.
In general, an uncontested divorce means you and your spouse agree on important issues such as child custody, child or spousal support, division of assets, and division of debts. Instead of going through a prolonged divorce trial, you can simply file your paperwork, submit your signed settlement agreement, and wait for court approval.
While an uncontested divorce is less complex than a contested divorce, it is still advisable to hire a divorce lawyer. They can help to draft and/or review your settlement agreement to ensure that you are protected and the agreement is fair. We can connect you today with a local divorce lawyer to understand your best options.
Learn more about uncontested divorces below.
How Does a Contested Divorce Differ?
In an uncontested divorce, both spouses agree on all divorce-related issues. This facilitates a relatively quick and comparatively easier process. On the other hand, in contested divorces, couples are unable to agree on some or even all issues.
If you and your spouse can’t agree, you will lose your ability to influence the outcome of your divorce. It will then be left up to a judge. The issue with contested divorces is that they are costly and lengthy. In some cases, a divorce trial can last up to a year.
A few factors that contribute to the higher cost of a contested divorce include:
- Legal Fees: The more time your divorce attorney spends on your case, the more you can expect to be billed. A contested divorce requires a lot more effort from your attorney than an uncontested divorce.
- Professional Fees: During a divorce trial a judge can order mediation, child custody evaluations, as well as mental health evaluations. All of this costs money. Potentially, thousands of dollars.
- Expert Witnesses: Some divorce cases require the expertise of a financial professional, mental health professional, etc. Unfortunately, expert opinions and testimony can cost a lot of money.
Difference Between an Uncontested and No-Fault Divorce
Though they sound similar, uncontested divorce and no-fault divorce are not the same things. Depending on the state you live in, both no-fault uncontested and no-fault contested divorces are allowable. Essentially, a no-fault divorce means that the spouse filing for divorce does not blame the breakup on the other spouse.
Some states allow for divorcing couples to file a fault divorce. However, all states allow for a no-fault divorce. Regardless of the type of divorce you file, you are required to state your grounds for divorce when filing your paperwork.
If you file a fault divorce, the grounds for termination of marriage can include adultery, abandonment, incarceration, etc. In the case of no-fault divorce, the generally accepted grounds for divorce include “irreconcilable differences” or an “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.”
Benefits of an Uncontested Divorce
Is an uncontested divorce the best option? In most cases, yes. The benefits of an uncontested divorce heavily outweigh those of a contested divorce. The most commonly cited benefits of getting an uncontested divorce are savings, less stress, and privacy. Learn more about each below.
The average cost of a contested divorce in the United States is roughly $15,000. Remember, that’s just the average cost. Some contested divorce cases can cost significantly more. Uncontested divorces typically cost significantly less because they require less time in court (if at all), less effort from your attorney, and fewer divorce-related expenses.
An uncontested divorce allows for you and your ex to work out your differences in a civil manner. Sometimes that will require the help of a family law lawyer in your area. You and your ex may also choose to attend mediation or some other form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
In general, the process is easier, less contentious, and helps to build communication skills, which can come in handy if there are children involved in your divorce.
You Maintain Your Privacy
If your divorce goes to trial, most of the information uncovered during the divorce will become public knowledge. This can be especially problematic for high-profile divorces and divorces that include embarrassing information.
Couples that come to a settlement agreement and file for an uncontested divorce do not have to worry about the details of the divorce becoming public.
Disadvantages to Uncontested Divorce
While there are clear benefits to filing an uncontested divorce, it is not the best option for all divorce cases. This is particularly true in the case of divorces that involve complex financial disagreements, disputes about children, and disputed property ownership issues.
An uncontested divorce is simpler and faster. However, that efficiency can come at the expense of effectively determining complex divorce-related matters that are fair to both parties. Additionally, divorces that involve children often require more complex court procedures that are not always available in an uncontested divorce.
It can be helpful to consult with a proven uncontested divorce lawyer in your area before making a final decision on the type of divorce you are going to file.
Can You Do an Uncontested Divorce With a Child?
Yes, you can successfully file an uncontested divorce if you have children. It is important to note that it will require a settlement agreement that is more detailed and is in the best interest of the child. If it does not adequately address the needs of your children, a judge will likely not approve your agreement.
Filing an uncontested divorce can make it easier for children to handle the divorce process as it will require less contention and facilitate more agreement. Furthermore, your children will not have to deal with the stress that a divorce trial can bring to a family.
What is the Difference Between a Dissolution and an Uncontested Divorce?
The uncontested divorce and dissolution process are similar, but not the same. If you choose the route of dissolution, you and your spouse are required to file a joint petition requesting a divorce. When filing for a dissolution, you are not required to allege fault. It is generally a more streamlined and faster process. In many ways, a dissolution is identical to getting a no-fault uncontested divorce.
Steps to Get an Uncontested Divorce
It is important to note that the process of getting a divorce can differ from state to state. It is recommended that you conduct research and/or hire an uncontested divorce lawyer in your area to assist you with understanding the law and how it applies to you.
Additionally, some states require couples to wait for a period of six months to one year before their no-fault, uncontested divorce is formalized. Typically, getting an uncontested divorce requires you to file for divorce, serve your spouse the paperwork, create and sign a settlement agreement, and have it approved by a judge. Learn more about each step below.
1. File Your Petition For Divorce
It can be helpful to contact the family court clerk’s office or check your state’s websites to learn where to find the paperwork, how to file it, and what the fees will be. When you file your paperwork, the clerk may also give you a hearing date. A divorce lawyer can be helpful when filing paperwork. If you make mistakes, it can result in a delayed process or you may have to start over again.
2. Serve Your Spouse
Even if you and your spouse agree to the terms of your uncontested divorce, one person is still required to file the documents. Once filed, you are required to serve your ex the paperwork and they have a specific amount of time to respond. Most states will not allow you to serve divorce papers on your own.
You must hire a professional process serving company or your lawyer can do it. Many courts will require you to prove that you have met your obligation for serving your spouse before you can move forward in the divorce process.
3. Draft and Sign a Settlement Agreement
By nature, an uncontested divorce requires a couple to create a formal settlement agreement on all divorce-related issues and sign it. Though it can be tempting to draft an agreement without spending thousands of dollars on a divorce lawyer, it can also be risky.
If you agree to the parameters of your settlement agreement and it is approved by a family court judge, it can be difficult and costly to make changes in the future. Whether you hire an attorney to review your settlement agreement or only to draft it, it is important to have one involved at some point in the settlement agreement process.
4. Get Approval From a Judge
The last step of the uncontested divorce process is to have your agreement approved by a judge. In most cases, they will approve it. However, some states require you and your spouse to endure a legal separation (sometimes referred to as a “waiting period”) until the divorce is finalized. Check with your divorce attorney or your state’s laws to determine the amount of time that you and your spouse will be required to wait.
Should I Get a Lawyer For an Uncontested Divorce?
There are a lot of resources, information, and legal help available online. While these can make it easier to handle some tasks on your own, it is typically in your best interest to hire an experienced divorce lawyer from your area. Unfortunately, many people are often discouraged by the cost of hiring an attorney, and who could blame them?
For a contested divorce, lawyers typically charge $3k – $5k upfront and an additional $300 – $500 per hour on top of that. While you can expect to pay substantially less in overall legal costs for an uncontested divorce, most lawyers will still require high upfront fees and potentially high hourly fees.
For an uncontested divorce, there is usually no need to spend an exorbitant amount of money on legal fees. That is why many people choose to take care of a few things on their own and save thousands in upfront fees by hiring an unbundled divorce lawyer to handle the rest. Learn more about how unbundled legal services can save you money below.
How Can Unbundled Legal Services Save Me Money on Legal Fees?
With unbundled legal services, you can hire a divorce lawyer in your area to help you with your case for as low as $500 – $1500. An unbundled lawyer can help you with the more complex parts of your case, while you take care of the parts that you feel comfortable with.
Essentially, if your case is a good fit to be unbundled, you will not have to pay thousands of dollars in upfront legal fees. If your case is more complex, our network of unbundled family law attorneys also offers full representation at affordable rates.