Divorce procedures can be time-consuming, stressful, and emotionally draining. But when it comes to divorce filing, there is one option that might alleviate some of the headaches. Couples who can find common ground may want to consider the benefits of an uncontested divorce.
An uncontested divorce may be able to save you time, money, and stress. Learn more about uncontested divorce and if one could be the right process for your situation.
What is an uncontested divorce?
An uncontested divorce is a proceeding in which spouses don’t have any disagreements that require going to trial. If a divorce is uncontested the divorcing couple decides on the terms of their divorce instead of a judge.1
There are typically two ways an uncontested divorce can occur. The first is when couples reach a unanimous decision on all major legal issues involved in the separation. Issues usually involve matters of property and financial division, such as child custody and support, spousal support (alimony), division of debt, and marital property division.2
The second avenue to an uncontested divorce arises by default. This occurs when one spouse fails to respond to the divorce summons, and the petitioning spouse can proceed with the divorce process without input from the other spouse.2
Uncontested divorces tend to be a simpler pathway to separation compared to a contested divorce. But keep in mind that an uncontested divorce can turn into a contested one if either spouse disagrees with the provisions of the agreement or asks a judge to step in.1
Contested divorce vs. uncontested
Both contested and uncontested divorces begin with one or both spouses filing for divorce. Depending on whether or not the couple can agree on all their divorce-related issues, the process will differ.
Unlike an uncontested divorce, the outcome of a contested divorce is in the hands of a judge. Because one or both spouses disagree with some aspect of their divorce, a contested divorce is litigated in court. Contested divorce proceedings are similar to any other type of civil trial — the two parties meet in court, present evidence, and then a judge decides on the terms of the divorce.2
Since a contested divorce involves the court system, they tend to be a longer and more expensive process. Spouses pursuing a contested divorce might have additional legal and attorney fees if they decide to use a divorce lawyer. Contested divorces are also a more complex undertaking and sometimes involve time-consuming legal procedures — such as a trial, discovery (a legal process of information and evidence gathering) and settlement proposals, and lawyer negotiations.3
How to file an uncontested divorce
Depending on the state, there will be slightly different requirements and procedures in place to file for an uncontested divorce. You should check the specific process in your state before proceeding. But in general, you can expect to take the following steps:1
- Discuss the terms of your divorce with your spouse: To file for an uncontested divorce, couples need to be on the same page concerning all the details of their separation.
- File a petition for divorce: The parties involved will typically need to officially put their settlement in writing, file them with the local court, and pay a filing fee.
- Submit your signed settlement: After agreeing to the terms of the settlement and signing the document, it’ll need to be submitted to the court. Additional documentation and procedures may need to be met during this time as well.
- Attend a hearing: Some states may require spouses to attend a hearing where they’ll answer questions concerning the terms of their divorce.
- Observe a waiting period: Some states have mandatory waiting periods, which couples must adhere to before their divorce can be finalized.
While hiring a lawyer isn’t a requirement for getting an uncontested divorce, consulting a lawyer may be beneficial. Consider enlisting the help of a lawyer for legal advice, a settlement review, and other legal services.
Benefits of an uncontested divorce
While divorces are difficult in general, uncontested divorce has a few advantages. As previously mentioned, uncontested divorces tend to be a cheaper and quicker avenue to legal separation.
Uncontested divorces can save you money because they don’t require extensive courtroom time or legal procedures that may cause spouses to hire a lawyer. But even with a lawyer, an uncontested divorce will usually be cheaper because spouses can avoid a trial.2
Uncontested divorces also have fewer proceedings and legal disputes, which typically makes them a faster process compared to contested divorces. And with no trial or negotiations, uncontested divorces are usually granted and finalized quickly.
In some situations, an uncontested divorce can help maintain a cordial relationship between former spouses — since they’ll need to work together to reach an agreement. Uncontested divorces are also a more private way to file for divorce.4
Disadvantages of an uncontested divorce
Uncontested divorces aren’t the right choice for everyone. For spouses with added considerations in their marriage, an uncontested divorce may not be a good fit. For example, couples with children will have to go through a more complex process involving additional filings for child custody and child support.4 Some other reasons an uncontested divorce may not be the best option for a couple include:
- There’s a significant imbalance of power in the marriage — such as financial disparity There are complex or disputed assets involved that are difficult to divide.
- One or both spouses are unable to support themselves.
- There are crucial disagreements concerning spousal support or other terms of the divorce.
Lawyers, mediators, and other professionals may be able to help divorcing spouses settle their disputes or come up with the best course of action.