What Do The Terms “Uncontested Divorce” And “Contested Divorce” Mean?
Updated: May 4
In Virginia, the divorce process can be costly, complex, and emotionally taxing. That’s why it’s important for anyone considering a separation or divorce to first consult with an attorney about the best path forward for pursuing his or her goals.
In this post, I will be discussing two terms that often pop up in this area of practice: “uncontested divorce” and “contested divorce.” For the sake of brevity, I will not be focusing on specific grounds of divorce, but rather on the general trajectories for each concept.
What Is An Uncontested Divorce?
Though different attorneys may prescribe different definitions to this term, I define an “uncontested divorce” as a divorce wherein both parties ultimately reach a mutual agreement that resolves all relevant issues concerning that divorce, without the need for court intervention. The amount of time and effort needed to reach a mutual agreement can greatly vary from case to case (if it is to be achievable at all), but this is usually the fastest and most cost-effective way to get divorced.
Some cases will begin with both parties resolute about resolving the matter on an amicable basis and already in agreement as to all relevant details. Often times, however, there will be specific issues involving custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, or the equitable distribution of property that the parties cannot initially resolve by themselves. In either event, an experienced attorney may aid in the facilitation of a mutually agreed-upon and signed Separation Agreement.
Resolving a divorce amicably through a Separation Agreement, when achievable, can have multiple benefits. To begin, it is usually cheaper and less emotionally taxing to pursue a divorce through finding mutual agreement than through conducting a full trial on all issues in front of a judge. Depending on the complexity of the case, the price of a fully litigated divorce can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars for each party. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, resolving a divorce in this manner provides you and your spouse more flexibility over the divorce process and outcome than if a case’s issues are left up to a judge to decide. Judges are generally confined to a limited number of legal remedies in resolving a divorce’s complexities. However, the parties themselves may be much better situated to devise creative solutions to resolving their differences.
Please note, however, that resolving a divorce through a Separation Agreement is not always an easy or quick process. There are several factors that can complicate a party’s efforts to reach agreement. First, the parties may begin the process with unrealistic goals, or otherwise far apart on certain issues. Second, the pain and shock of the separation may result in one or both parties being less willing to initially engage in discussions with the other regarding the divorce. Third, if equitable distribution of the party’s assets is at issue, an extensive investigation as to the nature and amount of those assets will likely be needed. If the parties possess a large amount of marital assets, possess assets that take effort to access and distribute (such as retirement accounts), or own a home together, this can be a time-consuming and costly process. Lastly, negotiating with the other party or (if they are represented by counsel) the other party’s attorney can present its own issues due to differences in negotiating strategies. For these reasons, it is extremely important to hire an attorney with experience, knowledge, and skill in negotiating such an agreement, as is further mentioned here.
Occasionally, the parties will fail to reach or maintain an agreement as to all issues pertaining to the divorce. In such cases, the proceedings become “contested” and will necessitate court intervention to resolve some or all issues pertaining to the divorce.
What Is A Contested Divorce?
Though different attorneys may prescribe different definitions to this term, I define a “contested divorce” as a divorce wherein an unresolved issues between the parties must be decided upon by a court. This can include cases that start out "contested" at their inception, and cases where the parties try but fail to reach an agreement on all issues. As noted above, "contested" divorces can be very expensive. They can also take a lot longer to complete than "uncontested" divorces, depending on the circumstances of the case.
Divorces tend to more likely become "contested" in cases where the parties possess many assets or debts, and/or in cases where one or both parties are contending that the other party has acted improperly during the course of the marriage. At times, a person's unrealistic expectations can also drive a divorce into "contested" territory.
Occasionally, divorces that start off appearing to be “contested” can sometimes become “uncontested." This typically occurs when the parties, having having previously anticipated the necessity of court intervention, manage to settle all outstanding issues between them.
Consult An Attorney
Regardless of your circumstances, it can be worthwhile to consult with an experienced family law attorney to explore your legal options.
Please be mindful that every case has different facts and can implicate different areas of the law. As such, the subject matter contained within this article should not be interpreted as specific legal advice for any individual case. Please contact Curcio & Curcio, PC at 276-466-3377 if you are need of any of the following:
An attorney in Bristol, VA
An attorney in Abingdon, VA or the broader Washington County area
An attorney in Marion, VA or the broader Smyth County area
An attorney in the broader Southwest Virginia area