Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce Procedures

Molly Recka

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce Procedures

Family Law
| 5 min
6 Min

In most cases, a divorce is either contested or uncontested. Every divorce involves dealing with a host of issues, including property division, alimony, child support, and child custody and visitation. An uncontested divorce is when the divorcing couple agrees on these and other major issues without the need to go to court.  

A divorce is contested if the couple cannot agree on major issues, including getting the divorce, and have to go to court to resolve the issues. Mostly, a contested divorce is complicated, lengthy, and expensive. However, depending on the nature of the contentious issues, a contested divorce may become uncontested as the divorcing couple works out a settlement.

Major Differences

There are some major differences between contested and uncontested divorces, including time, financial burden, and the ability to appeal. These differences are mostly due to the different procedures between the two types of divorce.

a) Time 

The time it takes to finalize a divorce is probably the biggest difference between contested and uncontested divorce. The fact that the divorcing couple has already agreed to an uncontested divorce means that it takes less time to finalize or come to a settlement. Essentially, an uncontested divorce does not go through the time consuming legal procedures, including trial proceedings.

On the other hand, the fact that the court is involved means a contested divorce will take a lot of time before it is finalized. In most cases, a contested divorce may be lengthy as the divorcing couples cannot see eye-to-eye on many issues. There is likely to be a lot of time spent in back-and-fourths between the two parties. To frustrate their partner, one of the divorcing parties may also make the divorce process longer than necessary by maliciously failing to cooperate.

b) Expenses

Another notable difference between contested and uncontested divorce is the expenses involved. Divorcing couples in contested divorce have to bear a heavier financial burden due to additional expenses in court fees and attorney fees. Mostly, an uncontested divorce does not require an attorney's services, and where required, it is minimal. Additionally, uncontested divorce does not go to trial; hence there are no additional court fees.

However, a contested divorce usually requires the services of a skilled attorney. Most divorce attorneys are expensive, meaning a contested divorce will always be more expensive than an uncontested one. The financial burden is made even heavier by the added costs of a trial. Other related legal procedures, including discovery, also makes contested divorces more expensive.

c) Appealing Divorce Outcomes

The extent to which a divorce outcome or settlement is appealable is another major difference between contested and uncontested divorces. In an uncontested divorce, the divorcing couple agrees to the divorce terms; hence the outcomes are not appealable. In any case, the couple makes the decision themselves; hence they are more likely to be comfortable with the settlement.

In a contested divorce, it is likely that one of the parties is not happy with the divorce outcomes and may appeal to the court decision. Unlike in an uncontested divorce, the judge in a contested divorce may not clearly understand the issues as the couples do. Essentially, the fact that the couple is not in control of the process means one party or both may not be happy with the outcome.

However, in both contested and uncontested divorces, the divorcing couples are not stuck with the divorce settlement. The couple can agree either among themselves or with the court's help to modify the divorce agreement. The modifications can result from a significant change in circumstances, including job loss or marriage. Modifications can also be done after an agreed period of time has passed.  


While the advantages of having an uncontested divorce are obvious, it is not always possible for divorcing couples to agree on major issues, especially where there are children or the financial stakes are high. However, with the procedural differences between the two types of divorces making a contested divorce more expensive, lengthy, and complicated, a couple should resolve divorce issues by themselves in an uncontested divorce. If necessary, the spouses can seek an attorney or an arbitrator's services to help them resolve their issues out of court.

6 Min
Sep 1, 2020
Molly Recka