Which Type of Divorce Is Best for You?
- Collaborative divorce
- Contested divorce
- Default divorce
- No-fault divorce
- Summary divorce
- Factors for picking options
- Alternatives to divorce
The word divorce always means the end of a marriage. Two people decide that it no longer makes sense for them to stay together as a couple. Instead, they want to live apart and divide up their assets and debts.
While any divorce signals the end of a relationship, different types are available. And often, couples must choose one in the paperwork they file with the court.
Understanding the differences, and learning more about the alternatives, can help you decide what's right for your relationship.
In a collaborative divorce, couples agree to work together to split up their estate, and they hire professionals to help them.
Each side hires a lawyer, and they agree to avoid going to court to end the case. The group works together to resolve various issues such as child custody, spousal support payments, and asset splits.
If couples can't agree, they go to court, but they must hire new lawyers to help them. Lawyers working in collaborative law don’t argue cases in court.
In a contested divorce, couples can't agree on key divorce factors. Some argue over child custody arrangements, and others disagree about assets like retirement accounts.
Couples typically hire lawyers, and they go to court. A judge listens to both sides and makes official decisions based on the evidence. A case like this can last for more than a year, and it's one of the most expensive ways to end a relationship.
Divorces begin with paperwork filed by one party and provided to the other. That paperwork includes response deadlines, allowing the other party to react to the paperwork and start the collaboration process. If the second party never responds, the first party can proceed with the divorce by default.
Default divorces are common when spouses are so estranged that they can't find one another. If your spouse moved away and never shared a new address, this may be the only way to move forward with your life. But you must provide proof that you tried contacting the other party.
States like California and Oregon offer no-fault divorce options. Couples cite nothing more than "irreconcilable differences" as the cause for the split. One person can file with this term, and the other party has no grounds for objection.
In states that don't offer this option, couples must cite a specific divorce trigger, such as infidelity. The spouse could dispute the claim and allow the case to drag on.
A summary divorce is sometimes called an uncontested divorce. Couples agree to end their relationship, and they split assets and debts equitably without entering a courtroom or hiring a lawyer.
Some couples use professionals like mediators to help them work through particularly challenging issues. But others handle these discussions privately and don't need an expert's help.
Couples using this option fill out paperwork independently, and they file documents with the courts without lawyers.
Three factors to help you pick the right option
You understand your relationship better than anyone else, and you're qualified to choose the right divorce for you and your future.
Consider these factors as you decide:
- Your current relationship with your spouse: Are you speaking to one another? Do you both want to break up? Did an event like infidelity trigger the split? Can you collaborate to split up your assets and debts?
- Your skill level: Are you comfortable handling divorce paperwork alone? Or is it best to hire someone to help you with the process?
- Your state: Some locations allow options (like no-fault divorces) that others do not. Does your state allow the type of divorce you want?
Know that you can switch from one option to another. For example, you might file for a collaborative divorce and discover that you can't work together after all. Moving to a contested divorce is both legal and smart in this situation.
But thinking hard about where you are now and what you want for the future can help you pick the divorce type that's best for your situation.
Two alternatives to divorces
If you're struggling in your marriage, divorce isn't your only option. In fact, you could try another route and determine if your marriage is worth saving after all.
One of these methods could be right for you:
Marriage and family therapy could help you untangle issues that are harming your relationship. Most couples complete their course of therapy within about 12 sessions. At the end of that time, you could resume your marriage or head to divorce. Some couples discover in therapy that their issues are too deep and complex to save the marriage.
Some couples live separately while moving through couples counseling. But others remain within the same house as they try to keep the relationship alive.
Some states (like California) allow couples to file for legal separation. Technically, you're still married and can't take vows with another person. But you can set up your own household, and any assets and debts you accrue while separated are yours to keep if you later get divorced.
Some couples use separation because they don't meet the residency or legal requirements for divorce filings. Others opt for separation because they'd like to try living alone before ending their marriages for good. After a trial separation period, some of these couples may continue to divorce, whereas the separation period can be healing for others, and they return to their marriage.
Have Questions About Divorce? Don't Know Where to Start?
Collaborative Divorce. (June 2021). Legal Information Institute.
What Is a Contested Divorce? (December 2022). Forbes.
Default Divorce. (September 2022). Legal Information Institute.
No-Fault Divorce. (September 2020). Legal Information Institute.
About Marriage and Family Therapists. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.