How to Proceed With an Uncontested Divorce

Learn more about the uncontested divorce process.

What Is an Uncontested Divorce?

In an uncontested divorce, both spouses must agree on all of their divorce-related issues. Every state has specific requirements for an uncontested divorce. For example, you will need to meet the state’s residency requirements and waiting period before you can ask the judge to finalize your divorce. You will also need to have a signed and final divorce settlement agreement that address all the issues in your case.

In most states, the couple must present a signed settlement agreement outlining the following:

  • division of marital property and debt
  • allocation of child custody and parenting time
  • child support
  • alimony (also called spousal support or spousal maintenance)
  • whether one spouse would like to restore a maiden name, and
  • any other divorce-related issues relevant to the couple.

Uncontested Divorce Process

The first step in the uncontested divorce process is to discuss it with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse. The hallmarks of an uncontested divorce are that you agree to the divorce and all the terms of the divorce. Next, you should understand that you can proceed alone or with an attorney. You might think that because you and your spouse agree on everything, you don’t need independent attorneys, but that’s not true. To ensure that the proposed divorce settlement agreement protects your rights, it’s best to at least consult with separate attorneys before you sign and proceed.

You’ll need to file a petition for an uncontested divorce (sometimes called a complaint) with your local court and pay a filing fee. If you can’t afford the filing fee, most jurisdictions allow you to ask the court to waive it by submitting a fee waiver request. You may also need to file additional documents, depending on where you live.

Every state’s uncontested divorce process varies, but generally, you’ll need to submit the proper forms and your signed settlement agreement to the court. Once you submit the required documents, you’ll need to wait for your state’s waiting period to expire. You can check with your local court to find out if the typical divorce waiting period is waived for uncontested divorces.

Once the court reviews your paperwork and determines that you've met all state requirements, the court will either schedule a final hearing in front of a judge, or a judge will sign the judgment of divorce without a hearing.

If you must attend a hearing, you should go prepared to answer a few questions on the record (under oath) from the judge. Usually, the purpose of this final hearing is for the court to ensure you meet the state’s divorce requirements and that you both voluntarily agree to the terms of the settlement. After you've answered the court's questions, the judge will sign the final judgment of divorce, and your case will conclude.

Uncontested Versus Contested Divorce Process

By far, the uncontested divorce process is at the top of the list for saving money and time when it comes to a divorce. If at any time, however, either spouse disagrees with the terms of the agreement or asks the judge to resolve a conflict, it will turn your uncontested divorce into a contested divorce.

A contested divorce means that there are unresolved issues, which you can't resolve that require court intervention. Contested divorces often take much longer than uncontested divorces because the spouses (or their attorneys) must conduct discovery. Discovery is a legal process where both sides ask the other to produce evidence, like financial documents, text messages, and anything else relevant to the contested issue. For example, if one spouse claims that the other is hiding assets, that spouse can serve discovery including a request to produce documents, like bank records and tax returns and even send a subpoena to third parties like banks, partners, and personal accountants.

Additionally, it takes significantly longer to complete a contested divorce because spouses and their attorneys need to present evidence, such as documents and witnesses, to the court during the trial. As with any legal proceeding, the entire process costs more money the longer it takes and becomes more involved.

Aside from time and money, one of the biggest downfalls of a contested divorce is that the judge (not the spouses) maintains control over the outcome. When couples work together to create a divorce settlement agreement, they control what happens to their family. For example, although the couple may disagree on frequency and the exact days for custody exchanges, they may agree that shared custody is best for the children. However, when the court becomes involved, a judge may see custody completely different.

Benefits of an Uncontested Divorce

There are many benefits to using your state’s uncontested divorce process. For example:

  • It costs less money overall (even though the filing fees for an uncontested divorce and contested divorce are identical). Even if both spouses hire attorneys, an uncontested divorce doesn’t require arguing, evidence, or a lot of time in the courtroom, all of which result in significant savings.
  • In most situations, an uncontested divorce will also preserve the relationship between the spouses. It’s no secret that divorces can further erode an already damaged relationship. Because an uncontested divorce requires the spouses to work together for a common goal, it usually leaves a better relationship intact at the end.
  • Filing for an uncontested divorce will almost certainly mean that the judge will finalize the divorce faster than a contested divorce.
  • Spouses who work together to create a settlement agreement are more likely to follow the orders after the divorce is final. When couples understand the reasoning behind the custody, support, or visitation orders, there’s less bickering, which leads to less unnecessary court hearings in the future.

FAQs

How long does it take to finalize an uncontested divorce?

It depends. In most cases, couples will only need to wait for their state’s mandatory waiting period to expire before the judge will finalize the divorce. Some states may waive the waiting period if the couple meets specific requirements.

To learn more about how long your divorce can take, see our article How Much Will My Divorce Cost and How Long Will It Take?

How much does an uncontested divorce cost?

Divorces are expensive, but uncontested divorces are historically cheaper than contested ones. Couples will need to pay the filing fee to start the legal process (unless the court waives it), and you may incur fees when each spouse hires an attorney to review the documents. However, by using the uncontested divorce process, you’ll save significant legal fees by avoiding discovery, court hearings, and fighting between spouses and lawyers.

Do I need a lawyer for an uncontested divorce?

No state requires couples to hire attorneys to file for divorce. You can proceed without an attorney. However, if you choose to represent yourself, the court will expect you to understand the law and the documents you sign and submit to the court. To ensure that you’re not giving up any of your legal rights, it’s always best to consult with an experienced family law attorney to review any settlement agreements or court documents before you sign.

Does an uncontested divorce go before a judge?

Depending on where you live, the law may require you to attend a hearing to finalize your divorce. Uncontested divorces in most states do not require multiple hearings for the judge to finalize the divorce. In some jurisdictions, the couple will only need to go to court to file the paperwork.

Can an uncontested divorce become contested?

Yes. Because you need to provide a signed settlement agreement with your divorce petition, it’s unusual for an uncontested divorce to become contested. However, if, at any point before the judge finalizes your divorce, either spouse disagrees with any issue, then you will be forced to move forward with a contested divorce.

How long does someone have to contest a divorce?

You can only contest a divorce until the judge signs the final judgment of divorce. Once the judge signs, your divorce is final. If your divorce is final and you would like to modify one of the court's orders later, you’ll need to follow your state’s steps for modifying one or more divorce orders.

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