Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce: How They Differ

When we hear that a couple we know is divorcing, the first thing we usually think about isn’t the legal procedures ahead. It’s the lost love. Two people who once loved each other enough to commit their entire lives to one another have now, for whatever reason, changed their minds.

But divorce is far more than that. It’s the dissolving of a multifaceted legal contract, probably the most complicated contract you will ever endeavor to unwind.

The big decisions of divorce

Before divorce proceedings are complete, a couple must make a host of important decisions about some major issues. A few of the bigger ones include the following:

  • Property: How will marital property be divided? This includes the marital home, money in shared savings accounts, retirement accounts, and more.
  • Debt: Property division includes debt. How will debt be split between the couple? This includes mortgage payments, credit card balances, student loans, and more.
  • Alimony: Will one spouse pay the other alimony/spousal support? If so, how much? And for how long?
  • Child custody: With whom will the couple's minor children live post-divorce? Options may include joint custody, sole custody, legal custody, and physical custody.
  • Child support: Will one spouse pay the other child support?

What if a divorcing couple can't agree?

If a couple is unable to agree on one or more issues pertaining to their divorce settlement and must take their disagreements to court, the divorce is considered to be contested. A contested divorce is more complicated, time-consuming, and expensive than an uncontested divorce, in which the couple agrees on all issues.

Sometimes, a contested divorce is unavoidable. But most people avoid it if they can. 

3 primary downfalls of contested divorce

1. Contested divorce cases take more time

Because more steps are typically involved (including a trial and discovery), you can expect a contested divorce to take a lot longer than an uncontested one. In addition to the filing of the divorce petition and response, each of you must find an attorney, go through divorce discovery, spend time negotiating, and prepare for and go through a trial.

2. Contested divorce cases cost more money

Because of the extra steps (like trial and discovery) we just mentioned as well as the expensive divorce lawyer and other professionals you might have to hire (CDFO, forensic accountant), the legal fees and other expenses quickly add up in contested divorce. Therefore, the final bill is higher than that of an uncontested divorce.

3. Contested divorces are more likely to render unwanted results

If spouses cannot agree on issues such as property division or child support, the judge will make these decisions for them. And, as we all know, any time a third party steps in to make decisions for another person, the risk of dissatisfaction is real.

FAQ about contested vs. uncontested divorce

Is the waiting period for contested divorce longer than the waiting period for uncontested divorce?

Every state imposes a mandatory waiting period from the start to the finish of a divorce. For example, in California, the waiting period is six months. In Texas, the waiting period is 60 days.

Although the state-imposed waiting period won’t be longer because you file a contested divorce, you can expect the entire process to take longer from start to finish due to all of the extra required steps.

The only thing my spouse and I agree on is that we don’t want the hassle of a contested divorce. What can we do?

If the two of you wish to create a settlement agreement without hiring a divorce attorney or going to divorce court, consider hiring a divorce mediator. Mediation is a popular choice because it saves you money and preserves at least some of your control over the situation. A professional divorce mediator can help you and your spouse negotiate your disagreements and come up with solutions you can both live with so you can avoid court. 

There are three types of mediators: facilitative, evaluative, and transformative. Read more about them in our article: Which Type of Mediation Would Work Best for You? The Three Types, Explained

What if one of us doesn’t want a divorce? Can that be contested?

No. Although many issues can be “contested” in divorce, the desire to stay married is not one of them. If one member of a couple wants a divorce, the other member cannot legally force them to stay in the marriage.

How can I find a good divorce mediator?

You can contact your local courthouse or your county’s or state’s bar association. If you don’t require a mediator who resides locally, you can also find a number of divorce mediators online. Hello Divorce offers online divorce plans that include mediation as well as mediators you can hire by the hour at any point in your divorce process.

Hello Divorce members can purchase a divorce plan that includes mediation services with one of our certified mediators.

If you're interested in the type of divorce that takes less time, costs less money, and guides you step-by-step to a satisfactory resolution, Hello Divorce has solutions. To learn more about our plans and services, schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation here. A friendly account coordinator will talk with you, answer your questions, and point you in the direction of a more peaceful resolution.

VP, Customer Service & Family Law Attorney
Communication, Relationships, Personal Growth
After managing the recording studio and major transactions for multi-Grammy-winning band Green Day for 13 years, she earned her JD in Family Law and joined Erin at Hello Divorce, where she now makes sure every aspect of our customers' journey with Hello Divorce is transparent, less stressful, and successful.