Contested Divorce in California

A contested divorce is one in which the parties don’t agree on one or several issues. They’ve typically worked through several rounds of forms, and some have worked with mediation teams. But the disagreements remain, and they need the courts to step in. 

A contested divorce takes longer (and is more expensive) than an uncontested divorce in which both parties have come to an agreement. 

5 reasons to contest a divorce 

In general, it's best to find a way to compromise with your partner without going to court. But some situations require a contested approach. 

1. Your spouse wasn't honest

You trade forms multiple times during the divorce process, and you should look at them carefully. If you do, you may notice that your partner does the following:

  • Leaves assets off the forms
  • Reduces the value of assets
  • Inflates the amount of your debt

Dishonesty like this could make it harder for you to make clear decisions during your divorce. And it suggests you might need help to make your partner comply.

2. You disagree about spousal support

Spousal support (otherwise known as alimony_ payments can help you stay afloat after your divorce. But some people get greedy (or stingy) during this process. If you can't agree on what these payments look like, you might need a court's help. 

3. You disagree about children

Couples must make multiple decisions about the children they share. They must determine the following:

4. You disagree about assets

Couples may disagree about houses, rental properties, cars, and other shared assets. Items like this come with plenty of emotional attachments, and some people find it hard to negotiate. When this happens, the divorce may best be settled in court. 

5. You disagree about debt 

The debts people acquire during a marriage are often split 50/50 during a divorce. But you might think your spouse can pay the debts back easier than you can. Or you might believe your spouse caused more debt than you did, and it's not fair for you to pay it back. These sorts of issues might be easier for a judge to handle. 

How does a contested divorce work?

Several steps come together during a contested divorce, and you have several options along the way. Know that you can hire a lawyer at any time to help you. 

Starting the process

One spouse (known as the respondent) files paperwork that starts the divorce, and the other (known as the petitioner) responds to it. 

In the Petition form (FL-100), checked boxes 2 and 3 include data about what your spouse wants the court to decide. The respondent may ask the court to accept an opinion about the following things:

  • How to split debts or assets 
  • Spousal support 
  • Child support and living arrangements

The petitioner may file the Response form (FL-120) and contest those opinions, which starts the contested divorce process. 

Option 1: Come to terms

At this point, you understand that you and your partner don't agree on one or many things. You could work directly with your partner on these issues, or you could hire a mediator to help you agree with one another. 

Once you agree, your divorce is no longer contested. You can fill out the final paperwork and finalize your divorce without ever going to court. 

Option 2: Go to court

If you can't agree with your spouse, you'll need to work on a solution through the trial process. That involves the following:

  • Setting a trial date 
  • Gathering evidence 
  • Requesting information from your spouse 
  • Asking witnesses to assist you 
  • Preparing your testimony

It can be expensive to hire a lawyer to handle your entire case. But you can work with a lawyer to settle just one sticky part of your contested divorce

For example, you could ask a lawyer to negotiate higher alimony payments or give you full custody of your children. After that agreement, you can end your marriage with an uncontested divorce. 


Contested divorce time frame & cost 

It costs up to $450 to file papers to start the case. And it costs up to $450 to file papers to respond to divorce papers. If you settle your disagreements without going to court, these are the only fees you'll pay.

But if you must hire lawyers to get you to agree with your partner, your costs will go up. Some lawyers cost more than others. 

A contested divorce time frame is hard to pin down, as some take longer than others. If you must go to court, and you wrangle for long periods, your divorce will take longer. In general, contested divorces take longer than uncontested ones do. 

What happens if you end up able to agree?

You can switch from a contested to an uncontested divorce at any point. You can finalize your arrangements with paperwork. 

Document your agreement using a template. Sign it, and ensure your partner does too. Bring this document and these forms to the court that began your divorce:

  • Judgment (FL-180
  • Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time) Order Attachment (FL-341)
  • Child Support Information and Order Attachment (FL-342)
  • Spousal, Partner, or Family Support Order Attachment (FL-343)
  • Property Order Attachment to Judgment (FL-345)
  • Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (FL-141
  • Appearance, Stipulations, and Waivers (FL-130)
  • Declaration for Default or Uncontested Dissolution or Legal Separation (FL-170)
  • Spousal or Domestic Partner Support Declaration Attachment (FL-157)
  • Notice of Rights and Responsibilities (FL-192)
  • Stipulation and Waiver of Final Declaration of Disclosure (FL-144)

Use the Judgment Checklist - Dissolution/Legal Separation (FL-182) as a final check to ensure you've attached all the right forms. 

Once you're done, go to court and file all the paperwork. By following these steps, you’re on your way to completing the process.

Watch: How to Get a Divorce in California



Respond to Divorce Papers. Judicial Branch of California. 
File Your Response to Divorce Papers. Judicial Branch of California. 
What to Know About a Divorce Trial. Judicial Branch of California. 
Propose and Negotiate Divorce Agreements. Judicial Branch of California. 
Divorce in California. Judicial Branch of California.
Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.