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How Long Does a Contested Divorce Take?

The hands of the wife and husband rests on the divorce documents. Concept of how long does a contested divorce take

A contested divorce in Oakbrook Terrace, IL, lasts about six months to a year, although the timeline sometimes extends for a few years. How long a contested divorce takes depends on the level of contention or disagreement, whether the parties have lawyers, the issues involved, and the amount of court involvement. For example, a contested divorce without lawyers typically takes longer than one involving lawyers, since these professionals have the experience and expertise to handle a divorce.

The hands of the wife and husband rests on the divorce documents. Concept of how long does a contested divorce take

What Is a Contested Divorce?

A contested divorce is one in which the spouses do not agree on at least one issue relating to the divorce. Common areas of disagreement include child custody, child support, spousal support, and property and debt division. Such a divorce may involve litigation, where the spouses present their cases in front of a judge. The judge is the ultimate decision-maker in these areas of disagreement.

Judges consider each spouse’s financial situation, the best interests of the children, and any expert recommendations when making their decisions. A contested divorce can get complex and litigious, depending on the issues involved, the depth of disagreement, and each spouse’s approach to handling matters.

Judges’ decisions in contested divorces are binding. Both parties must follow what the judge decrees, which means that the parties in a contested proceeding give up the power to negotiate and carve out a settlement with which they can live. It is always a bit of a gamble to leave matters up to a judge to decide.

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce

What is the difference between a contested and uncontested divorce? Uncontested divorces are the opposite of contested divorces. In uncontested proceedings, the spouses discuss the issues and are able to agree on them (if not at first, then eventually and perhaps with the help of mediators, lawyers, or other third parties).

An uncontested divorce can take a few weeks to a few months. They tend to be significantly quicker compared to contested divorces. If your divorce is currently contested, it could become uncontested at some point if you and your ex work toward common goals with respect and an open mind.

Common reasons people get a contested divorce include different ideas on what is in the best interests of their children and an unwillingness of one spouse (or both) to compromise on custody arrangements or decision-making authority. Sometimes, spouses have different opinions on what makes for an equitable distribution of assets and do not always see eye-to-eye on spousal support (alimony) matters.

Emotions from infidelity, substance abuse, or other misconduct can make it hard for the parties to agree to divorce terms, too. In these cases, giving matters time to settle down helps sometimes. A history of abuse is another reason for a contested divorce.

Steps in a Contested Divorce

The steps in any split, including contested vs. uncontested divorce, vary depending on the locality and particulars of the case. A contested divorce in Oakbrook Terrace, IL, takes these general steps.

Consulting With a Lawyer

Ideally, you would talk with a lawyer as early as possible to get an assessment of your case and to learn more about the process and elements involved. Many times, people consult with divorce lawyers before they even mention divorce to their spouses.

Filing the Divorce Petition

The petitioner (the spouse initiating the divorce) files a petition or complaint with the relevant court. The petition describes the grounds for divorce and might include specific requests such as those relating to child custody or child support.


The respondent spouse is served with the petition for divorce and has the opportunity to respond in a designated period. The respondent sometimes files a counterclaim listing his or her own issues and requests.

Going Through the Discovery Phase

In the discovery phase, the parties gather information and evidence related to the contested issues. For example, if property is an area of contention, then the documents could include bank statements, assessments, and deeds. One spouse or both may request documents, submit interrogatories (written questions), and conduct depositions (sworn statements).

Negotiating and Settling

Both parties (and their attorneys) may negotiate to reach a settlement agreement in hopes of avoiding a drawn-out contested divorce. Sometimes, mediation or alternative dispute resolution methods can help the parties find areas of agreement and turn a divorce uncontested. Often, the court orders mediation before allowing a contested divorce to proceed.

Holding Pretrial Hearings and Motions

A judge may hold pretrial hearings to address procedural matters, resolve disputes, and rule on motions. These motions may relate to temporary child custody, support, or other interim relief that is necessary to figure out as soon as possible.

Proceeding to Trial

Each party presents its arguments, evidence, and witnesses in court. A judge uses the applicable laws and evidence to make decisions on unresolved issues.

Issuing Final Judgment and Orders

When the trial ends, the judge makes a final judgment. It includes orders relating to property division, child custody, spousal support, and other relevant matters. Both spouses must adhere to these orders.

Modifying or Enforcing Orders

One spouse or even both sometimes seek to modify or enforce the court’s orders after the divorce is finalized. For example, if one ex-spouse loses his or her job, he or she might ask the court for an increase or reduction in child support, depending on whether he or she is a custodial parent. Custody arrangements, support obligations, and non-compliance with court orders are common areas in which a party seeks to modify or enforce divorce orders.

When Should You Get a Divorce Lawyer?

An uncontested divorce lawyer can be a tremendous asset and expedite a relatively amicable split. That said, a few situations especially call for the expertise of a divorce lawyer.

  • Spousal misconduct or abuse: A divorce lawyer can help you understand your rights if your spouse has hidden assets, abused you, or been violent toward your children. Lawyers also provide guidance on protective measures and work to keep you safe during the divorce process.
  • Complex issues: When a divorce is complicated and has nuanced legal, financial, or child-related matters, the assistance of a divorce lawyer can be quite helpful. Even if the parties agree on all the issues, it is not easy per se to divide assets, debts, or businesses, or devise parenting plans when the custody and support issues are complex. Lawyers can also see solutions where many other people cannot.
  • Disagreements and disputes: If your divorce is turning out to be contested, a lawyer can negotiate on your behalf, advocate for a fair resolution, and represent you in court concerning critical issues such as property division, child custody, and child support.
  • Peace of mind: Many divorcing people value peace of mind above other things. The legal knowledge and expertise of lawyers help protect your rights and ensure that the required paperwork is filed correctly.
  • Protection from emotional conflict: Divorce tends to be emotionally challenging and stressful. A divorce lawyer is one way to avoid direct contact and unnecessary conflict with your spouse. Lawyers can act as a buffer and reduce your emotional stress.
  • Familiarity with local laws and procedures: Divorce laws vary depending on the jurisdiction. For example, a divorce in Oakbrook Terrace, IL, does not follow the exact same steps as one in New York City. A divorce lawyer who practices locally helps you navigate the specific requirements of your jurisdiction.

The earlier you enlist the help of a divorce lawyer, the more time you have to benefit from this person’s expertise.

How Long Does a Contested Divorce Take in Oakbrook Terrace, IL?

It can be difficult for the parties to agree on divorce terms. In a contested divorce, the length of time the proceeding takes depends on factors such as how transparent and aboveboard the parties are, the complexity of the issues, and how long discovery takes. Even in simple cases, discovery can require weeks or months. It can take a long time to track down a single piece of paper, and many divorces involve hundreds of documents.

If you feel your divorce is taking too long, you could explore uncontested divorce. Your lawyer can discuss with you whether it is advisable. In cases where the parties can work together collaboratively enough and there is not a history of manipulation, abuse, or power imbalance, an uncontested divorce can reap rewards.

For instance, what happens at a court hearing for an uncontested divorce is drastically different from what occurs at a contested divorce trial. An uncontested divorce hearing is relatively low-key. The judge reviews the settlement agreement to ensure there are no obvious imbalances and finalizes the divorce.

Meanwhile, a contested divorce trial can involve considerable time, expense, and emotional strain. It does not set the best stage for co-parents to have a productive co-parenting relationship going forward and is harder to recover from versus an uncontested divorce hearing.

Uncontested divorce lawyer Denise Erlich is passionate about helping divorcing couples in the greater Chicagoland area transition to their new life as seamlessly as possible. Ms. Erlich patiently guides her clients through every step of the divorce process and provides clients with candid advice about their case and legal options, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

Years of Experience: More than 20 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
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