In many states, there are no juries in divorce trials.
When a couple divorces, there are usually a host of decisions that need to be made. These may relate to issues including asset and debt division, spousal support/alimony, child support, custody and visitation, and other matters. If a couple is able to come to an agreement about all the major issues before trial, that is called an uncontested divorce. Conversely, if there are one or more significant matters that the couple cannot agree on themselves, it is a contested divorce. A divorce may start out as contested, but then become uncontested as the parties work out disagreements.
In some cases, the couple may disagree about whether to get divorced at all. However, a judge will not require a couple to stay married if one of the parties does not want to be in the marriage. With all states now having some form of “no-fault” divorce, eventually anyone who wants a divorce can get one, though one party can make the process much longer and more arduous if they are not willing to come to the table in good faith. Generally, no-fault divorces are premised on a fundamental disagreement or incompatibility between the parties. When a couple that disagrees on whether or not to stay married, that can be an example of such a fundamental disagreement.
Differences Between Contested and Uncontested Divorce
One of the biggest differences between contested and uncontested divorces is the time it takes to become finalized. Uncontested divorces will usually go through relatively quickly. However, “quick” in divorce terms may still be a long time, depending on your state and courthouse. Also, an uncontested divorce does not require a trial, discovery, or other time consuming legal procedures. That means that legal fees will be much less expensive in an uncontested divorce than a contested divorce.
Another difference between contested and uncontested divorces is the extent to which the outcomes are appealable. Since in an uncontested divorce the parties both consent to the arrangement, the terms of the divorce are not appealable. However, that does not mean that the parties are stuck with the agreement forever. If circumstances change significantly and/or a specific period of time has passed, depending on your state you may be able to modify the agreement. However, since the parties are making the decisions themselves, they are more likely to be happy with the outcome of the proceedings.
If You Can’t Agree...
In a contested divorce you and your spouse cannot agree on the terms of your divorce and need a judge to help you sort it out.
In a contested divorce that does not settle, the judge is the one who is ultimately responsible for making the decisions for the couple. The judge may end up prioritizing some concerns over others, but this may not always align with the priorities of the couple. For example, it may be very important to one spouse to keep the house, and the other spouse may prefer to get the car. However, a judge may order the house sold and the car to go to the other spouse. The more control the spouses have over the process, the more likely they are to come to an agreement that they both can live with.
While there are benefits to an uncontested divorce, sometimes it is impossible to come to an agreement about important matters with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. Keep in mind that the spouses do not need to come to these agreements by themselves. By working with skilled divorce attorneys and potentially pursuing mediation (which some courts require), the parties can potentially work out a settlement that ultimately resolves their disagreements.