Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce in California

Divorce decree in and two broken wedding rings on judge gavel.

There are two ways to resolve your divorce in California — your case can be either “contested” or “uncontested.” The type of divorce you choose will make all the difference in how your case proceeds through the legal system. However, there are a number of legal and practical considerations to keep in mind when deciding whether a contested vs. uncontested divorce is right for your situation, including the impact it can have on your future.

What is an Uncontested Divorce?

An uncontested divorce is one in which spouses agree on all terms of the divorce. This means they have reached a settlement on the issues that must be decided before a judge will sign the final decree — and there are no disagreements that need to be resolved. Since this method allows spouses to settle their issues outside of court, uncontested divorces are often more cost-effective and efficient than contested divorces.

Some of the benefits of an uncontested divorce vs. a contested divorce can include the following:

  • Ease — Compared with a contested divorce case, which can involve multiple court hearings, motion practice, extensive discovery, and litigation, the uncontested divorce process involves reaching a settlement agreement and submitting it to the judge.
  • Less emotional stress — Divorce is always emotionally challenging, but when a case is uncontested, it can reduce the emotional stress that often comes with litigation.
  • Amicability — When a divorce is uncontested, conflict is reduced. This can help spouses part ways more amicably, which is particularly important when children are involved.
  • Confidentiality — Unlike contested divorces, which take place in an open courtroom, uncontested divorces are conducted outside of court. There is no need to disclose private or personal information in public.
  • Faster resolution — An uncontested divorce can proceed at the pace set by the parties, rather than rely on the court’s calendar. This can often lead to a faster resolution.

Importantly, an uncontested divorce allows the spouses to remain in control of the outcome of their case. Rather than let a judge decide the issues that will impact them and their family for years to come, spouses work together to settle these matters themselves. When a settlement is reached, the spouses will draft an agreement and submit it to the court for review. If the settlement agreement is fair and approved by the judge, it will become a binding order.

What is a Contested Divorce?

A contested divorce is one in which any of the issues that must be decided in a divorce are in dispute. Specifically, a divorce case will be considered “contested” if the parties are unable to reach a settlement on their own and a judge will need to determine the outcome. When a divorce is contested, spouses may not agree on any one or more of the following issues:

  • Child custody and parenting time
  • Child support
  • Spousal support
  • Property and asset division
  • Debt allocation

Depending on the complexity of the issues in the case, a contested divorce can take several months — or sometimes even years — to go through the court system. In addition to being time-consuming, a contested divorce can often be costly for the parties. Nevertheless, a case that is contested can be settled between the spouses at any time before trial through negotiations or another form of dispute resolution.

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce: What is Right for Me?

An uncontested divorce might be best in cases that do not involve children or complex assets. There is also a type of uncontested divorce in California called a “summary dissolution,” which can be used to end a short-term marriage where there are no children and few assets. A contested divorce may be necessary if there are complicated issues, concerns about hidden assets, or a case is particularly contentious.

But while uncontested divorces do not require litigation, it does not mean that the issues in the case do not have to be negotiated. Often, mediation or the collaborative divorce process can be used to help a couple work together to reach an amicable resolution. When mediation is used, a neutral third-party called a mediator facilitates healthy communication and assists the parties with discussing the issues that need to be determined. Similarly, the collaborative process uses a team of professionals based on the issues in the case to help spouses reach a settlement agreement.

Despite the many benefits of an uncontested divorce, it may not be right for every situation. Certain circumstances may require using the contested divorce process to help ensure the rights of both parties are protected. In cases involving a power imbalance, complex finances, or hidden assets, the uncontested divorce process may not provide the appropriate tools to safeguard a spouse’s interests.

An experienced divorce attorney can advise you regarding your options and guide you through the divorce process. Located in Walnut Creek, California, Bednarczyk & Valerio, LLP offers reliable representation and trusted counsel to clients in California for a wide variety of matrimonial matters, including uncontested and contested divorce. Call 925-464-2494 or contact us online to schedule a consultation to learn how we can help.

Categories: Divorce