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What Is the Difference Between a Contested and Uncontested Divorce?

Divorce folder with a lot of files on the background.

A divorce is uncontested if the parties are able to agree on the issues and avoid a trial. In a contested divorce, at least one dispute exists. Common areas of conflict include parenting time and the division of assets and debts. When the parties consider the pros of contested vs uncontested divorce, the latter is preferable most of the time. For example, uncontested divorce can save considerable time, money, and stress.

Divorce folder with a lot of files on the background.

Contested Divorce vs Uncontested Divorce

Most divorces never go to trial and do not have to involve fights. Areas of disagreement are common at first, of course, but usually can get resolved. A divorce that starts as contested can eventually turn uncontested, too.

Which Is Best: Contested vs Uncontested Divorce?

Divorces are contested or uncontested. A contested divorce involves disagreements and may occur because at least one party refuses to compromise.

Much of the time, uncontested divorce is ideal. Contesting a divorce can take considerable time, effort, and resources. It can drain the parties emotionally and set the stage for a bad co-parenting relationship. However, contested divorce may be appropriate in situations involving manipulation, abuse, or domestic violence. Here are five advantages of uncontested divorce:

  • Faster finalization
  • Cheaper and more effective
  • Less stressful
  • Both parties have a say in the decisions
  • Streamlined and simplified process

To explain further, the timeline in a contested vs uncontested divorce can mean a difference of many months or even years. In a contested divorce, one or both parties may try intentionally to draw out the process with motions, depositions, fact-finding, pre-trial proceedings and more. Meanwhile, an uncontested divorce in Illinois can be finalized in as little as two months.

The minimal expense is another one of the benefits of uncontested divorce. For example, the parties don’t need to spend thousands of dollars for many hours of legal assistance. Less stress is another primary advantage. The parties are working together instead of against each other and being honest and transparent. There is less conflict. The parties have more control over their future, and a contested divorce can be extremely tough to rebound from mentally, emotionally, and financially.

Uncontested divorce is often empowering, even if it may seem the opposite sometimes. Going the uncontested route requires negotiation and keeping an open mind. People do sometimes make decisions they would rather not, but it is their choice to make. By comparison, a contested divorce means giving a judge the power to make decisions. The parties may be less inclined to honor an outcome in which they feel they did not have a say.

An uncontested divorce can be incredibly streamlined and simplified. It may help if both parties accept that the marriage is over and are able to identify the goals they want to achieve. Making sure both get significant time with the children because it is in the kids’ best interest is one example of a goal.

Whether you are going for contested vs uncontested divorce, a lawyer is a good ally to have. Many uncontested divorces involve one or both parties enlisting the help of lawyers to minimize the chances of making decisions they might regret eventually.

For example, divorce can be very emotional and trigger feelings of guilt, shame, jealousy, or euphoria, among others. People can behave irrationally and not in their best interests. Since uncontested divorce has that potential downside, the presence of lawyers can help with mitigating possibly bad decisions.

Is Your Divorce Uncontested?

Your divorce is probably uncontested if you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse agree on all the issues. If you agree on everything except one issue, it is contested. Your lawyer can clarify any confusion about contested vs uncontested divorce.

In contested divorces, the parties may need to go to trial, where judges make the decisions for them. Let your attorney know as soon as possible if your divorce seems to be turning contested. Your attorney helps you clarify the issues and figure out good ways to resolve them. An uncontested settlement may still be possible. If it is not, you have at least clarified the issues for the judge.

Division of assets and debts, spousal support (alimony), and child custody and child support are major issues that many divorces must address. What seems relatively uncomplicated can sometimes get thornier as you investigate it more. For example, a 50/50 parenting plan initially might not account for holidays, children’s activities, and vacations.

How Long Can You Contest a Divorce?

Your lawyer can clarify the timeline aspects of your divorce for you. In general, the parties have 18 months to resolve child custody and paternity matters, but other disputes, such as those over property, can go on much longer.

Once a proceeding reaches the trial stage, the end should be in sight. Most of the “dragging out” occurs before trial.

It is possible to revisit a divorce decree after it has been finalized. This can occur when one party misrepresented material information or a person’s circumstances have changed considerably. Tight deadlines may apply, so speak with your lawyer as soon as you realize something is wrong or has changed.

What Are the Steps of an Uncontested Divorce?

Illinois uncontested divorce requirements include residency and paperwork. For example, one or both spouses must have resided in Illinois for the 90 days before the divorce is finalized. If the parties do not have attorneys, they must file the right papers and in the correct venues.

Generally, the other steps in an uncontested divorce include these:

  • The petitioner filing a petition for dissolution of marriage in the appropriate place and arranging for the respondent to be served with copies and a summons
  • The respondent replying within 30 days of getting the petition, if desired
  • Both parties drafting and signing an allocation judgment and marital settlement agreement that covers property division, parenting plans, and other issues
  • A judge approving the agreements at a prove-up hearing and entering a final judgment of dissolution of marriage to finalize the divorce

Of course, each divorce is unique. The step related to drafting the settlement agreement may involve a lot of discussion and negotiation with lawyers or mediators, for instance.

Fortunately, many people who are unsure about how to file for an uncontested divorce find the filing aspect itself is straightforward. In fact, quite a few things usually happen before any paperwork is filed. Divorce is emotional, and an uncontested proceeding might not be possible right after one party tells the other he or she wants a divorce. A few months could be necessary to give everything some time to sink into the parties’ minds.

It can be a mistake to bypass talking to a lawyer if you assume your divorce will be uncontested. You would talk with a surgeon before having a procedure, and the same idea applies to divorce. Even if you expect your spouse to take the news well and agree with you on all the areas, it is a good idea to understand the requirements and the paperwork you should gather.

What Makes a Good Candidate for Uncontested Divorce?

Uncontested divorce works well in many situations, for example, if you and your ex can work together on your common divorce goals. Even if you are unable to talk directly with each other, an uncontested divorce is still possible with the help of lawyers or mediators who can handle communication.

On the other hand, you may not be a good candidate for uncontested divorce if the marriage involved power disparities, fighting, domestic violence, manipulation, or physical, mental, or emotional abuse. These scenarios put one party in the position of having an unfair advantage over the other.

Similarly, an uncontested divorce might not be best if you struggle considerably with the need for divorce or feel rushed to settle. If your spouse served you with divorce papers last week and is pressuring you to settle right now, you likely need time and space to breathe and process. Uncontested divorces have many advantages, but are not something to rush into, especially since the decisions you make can have repercussions for the rest of your life.

It is somewhat common in divorces for one spouse to wield guilt or shame as a weapon at some point. Suppose one spouse had an affair, and the other is using that fact to guilt the first spouse into signing over sole custody of the children.

Much of the time, joint custody is in the children’s best interests. Both parents should be as involved in the children’s lives as possible, but that is not always clear when emotions run high. Thus, people might not be good candidates for uncontested divorce (yet) if they are willing to go along with whatever their spouse wants just to keep the peace or to make up for perceived wrongdoings. A lawyer can help advocate for their clients’ interests, no matter the situation.

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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