When you and your spouse decide to call it quits, emotions can run wild.
Anger to relief…
Betrayal to freedom…
Excitement to worry…
These are just a few of the powerful psychological swings you may feel.
And, depending upon your emotions (and the motivation for your divorce), you and your spouse might be weighing the possibility of an uncontested divorce.
But before you make any big decisions, there are some critical things you and every other woman should know about contested versus uncontested divorce…
A contested divorce is exactly what it sounds like—an open-dispute about the terms of the divorce. These disputes can range in their nature from polite and civilized to something more along the lines of a barroom brawl.
Anything can trigger a contested divorce, from gardening equipment to the possession of deeded property, but the most common trigger involves custody of the children.
While both forms (contested and uncontested) require certain filings and proceedings with the court, contested divorce takes considerably more time to complete and can be quite costly when all the legal fees are accounted for.
The polar opposite of a contested divorce, an uncontested divorce owns no disagreement.
The allocation of assets, the burden of specific debts, the custody of the children, the amount of alimony…everything has been reviewed, divided, and agreed upon by the divorcing couple.
An uncontested divorce requires less in the way of time, money, and trips to the courthouse. In fact, an uncontested divorce might not even require an attorney!
As long as both spouses can sit down and come to amicable terms, an uncontested divorce can work.
So, what’s best? Uncontested or Contested Divorce
Based on the previously stated facts, it’s probably pretty clear that an uncontested divorce—if tenable—is the better of these two possible outcomes.
Less time, less money, less emotional heartache, fewer sleepless nights—it’s as clean as a divorce can get.
But, it’s important to note that most uncontested divorces don’t start that way.
The majority of divorce cases start as contested disputes. They only become “uncontested” after a whole lot of back and forth negotiating between the two spouses (or their legal representation).
When this occurs, the uncontested agreement is called a “settlement,” which outlines the mutually approved dispersal of assets, liabilities, and child custody.
Unlike a contested divorce, once the ink is dry on an uncontested agreement, that’s it—the terms, as they’re laid out, are final, and the settlement is cemented in law.
If you and your spouse have elected to conduct an uncontested divorce on your own, make sure you have your terms (“agreement”) reviewed by an independent divorce lawyer before heading to court. The lawyer will confirm the written terms are agreeable to both parties, and ensure every aspect of the document will meet the court’s standards for approval.
Why isn’t all divorce uncontested?
Right now, you might be asking yourself, well if uncontested divorce is so much better, why doesn’t everybody do it?
Well, in a perfect world, everyone would.
But—as you probably know—this is far from a perfect world.
Those emotions mentioned earlier? Anger, betrayal, frustration, fear—they can make it impossible for some couples to come to the table and talk, let alone agree on something.
So, even though an uncontested divorce seems like the no-brainer option for those unemotionally involved (like judges, lawyers, and outside observers), it’s just not that easy.
What to do when a divorce is contested
First and foremost, if a divorce looks like it’s going to be contested hire representation.
Do not—repeat—do NOT attempt to represent yourself…it’s a recipe for disaster.
Stepping into mediation or a courtroom to effectively argue a case requires special skills and knowledge (in addition to complete emotional control). Without those skills and that knowledge, you could walk out of divorce court utterly decimated.
When you’ve found an attorney you’d like to partner with, start getting your financial house in order. The more knowledge you have about your personal and household finances, the more quickly your attorney can ascertain a clear picture of what’s going on, and what the right strategy should be.
If you and your spouse have joint credit cards accounts, joint bank accounts, joint retirement accounts, etc. contact those businesses and ask them to provide you with a complete, end-to-end copy of the account records.
Pro tip—mentally and emotionally prepare to be deposed
Many contested divorces where large assets are at stake will require a deposition—you being deposed by your spouse’s attorney and vice versa.
Depositions are recorded, annotated interviews taken under oath. The questions asked during the course of a deposition can range in nature from the very general to the very personal, and can be used in a court of law to levy a decision in your favor or against.
Although television and film producers might have you believing otherwise, contested divorces are not always vile, messy, unpleasant processes. Can they be?—of course, but that’s not the norm. If your divorce doesn’t go the uncontested route, don’t be dismayed. It doesn’t mean you’ll be slugging it out with your former spouse for months on end. From the moment you and your spouse decide to go your separate ways, partner with an attorney—not because you’re looking for a fight, but because you’re looking for the best outcome possible. An outcome that keeps financial and emotional costs to a minimum.