When couples divorce, they have the option of having a contested divorce or an uncontested divorce. Often times, early in the divorce process, couples may believe they are destined for a contested divorce. However, with a skilled divorce attorney on your side, oftentimes matters can be negotiated and settled.
Understanding the Difference Between Contested and Uncontested Divorce
In a contested divorce, one or more issues in the divorce are unresolved. As such, the parties contest the resolution of this issue. When a divorcing couple has a contested divorce, the following things must take place:
- Their attorneys must prepare for trial.
- Witnesses must be prepared for trial.
- The parties go to court on a date where both spouses, their attorneys, and the court can accommodate the court hearing.
- Testimony is taken from witnesses.
- Witnesses are subject to cross-examination.
- The lawyers make arguments.
- The court takes the case under advisement.
- A decision is made by the court.
In a contested divorce, a judge who doesn't know you or your family makes the final decision. You may win on every issue. Or you may lose on every issue. Or you may win on some issues and lose on some issues.
In an uncontested divorce, the parties agree on how to end their marriage. There are no issues that are before the court for decision. Instead, the parties go to court simply to formalize and finalize an agreement they made previously, with the help of their lawyers.
Not every uncontested divorce starts as an uncontested divorce. It is quite common for couples to start divorce proceedings with different views on how the divorce issues will be settled. Over time, with the help of respective family law attorneys, couples often come to an agreement. Different approaches can be used to come to that agreement. They include:
- Mediation – where a neutral third party works to help the parties find common ground. In mediation, families can come up with creative solutions conducive to their family's needs and preferences. It may include resolutions that would be considered unusual by other couples or families. Mediation, unlike a court proceeding, is private. There is no record made of the discussions during a mediation. If the parties cannot agree, they still have the option of going to court for a contested hearing.
- Collaborative divorce – a collaborative divorce allows the parties to work with their lawyers to come up with a plan to resolve the issues of the divorce. The parties may share a single parenting expert or a single financial planner, who works with them to draft a plan for the family, based on individual needs. In a collaborative divorce, the lawyers are so committed to an uncontested resolution, they will not stay on as the lawyers if the parties decide a contested divorce is better for them.
- Negotiation – in a negotiated divorce, the parties' lawyers work together to propose settlement options, based on the needs and wants of their clients. The parties still have the option of going to court if they cannot resolve contested divorce issues through their attorneys.
In any divorce, whether it is contested or uncontested, no party gets everything they want. There will inevitably be compromises along the way. A trusted family law attorney can provide the client with perspective about what may and what may not be worth fighting over.
Legal Matters Associated with Contested Divorce
Even though every divorce is different, the topics of contention are generally the same. These include:
- Division of assets
- Division of debts
- Spousal support, sometimes referred to as alimony, or lack thereof
- Child support
- Health and dental insurance for the children
- Parenting time, also referred to as child custody
From what religion the child is taught to who has the child on the Fourth of July, every aspect of parenting is reviewed in any divorce proceeding. Similarly, there may be several different attempts to resolve the division of assets and debts. When the parties cannot compromise and come to an agreement, the court steps in.
Why an Attorney is Needed in both Contested and Non-Contested Divorces
There are certain things, such as child support, that are regulated fairly rigidly by statute. There are other areas of divorce law that one may not be aware of. Having a family law attorney working on the divorce ensures couples get what they are entitled to, don't commit to something that is not legally supportable, and generally provide guidance as a couple works to end their marriage.
If you are considering divorce, contact the Law Office of Charles F. Koehler, P.C. at 703-669-5644. We offer a full range of family law services, including divorce planning, child support modifications, and parenting time adjustments. Let us put our experience to work for you.