Ending a marriage is never a simple process. However, it can be simpler in some situations when the spouses are able to remain civil and agree between themselves how to divide the marital assets, deal with custody and support issues, and handle any other matters. Also known as an uncontested divorce, it may be hard for divorcing couples to accomplish in many instances, but the benefits can be great under the right circumstances.
Uncontested divorce offers divorcing spouses the chance to end their marriage quietly and with dignity.
The most obvious advantage of an uncontested divorce is its cost. An uncontested divorce that stays uncontested is almost always the least expensive way of getting divorced. The low cost is not, however, the only advantage of uncontested divorce. If the level of conflict between the two spouses remains low, an uncontested divorce offers a way to keep it that way. It is more private, more cooperative, and likely to keep more of your assets in each of your pockets and out of the hands of lawyers, accountants, process servers, and others required to put on a full divorce proceeding.
Uncontested divorce is a bad idea when one spouse is beating up on the other. If there is a history of domestic violence, emotional abuse, or some other disparity in power in the relationship, it almost always leads to one spouse having an unfair advantage over the other. That disadvantaged spouse probably needs an attorney to advocate for them in a difficult situation.
Uncontested divorce is also a bad idea when the parties are not able to talk with each other without fighting. If your spouse refuses to have any discussion with you about divorce, or every conversation ends in a screaming match, but you are determined to move forward with divorcing, you will likely need to move forward with a contested divorce and probably should hire an attorney. Similarly, if one or both of you are vested in keeping certain items of property or taking a larger share of the marital assets, then this could lead to an intractable disagreement that may not be easily resolved in an uncontested divorce proceeding.
Finally, uncontested divorces are a bad idea if you and your spouse are not comfortable with the law or do not believe you can work through the paperwork on your own. Uncontested divorces are relatively straightforward, but still require you to read and understand a number of different forms which will probably include fairly in-depth financial disclosures by each party. If this idea is intimidating, it may be wise to contact an attorney to assist with the process.
How It Works
The first thing you need to know about uncontested divorce is that you can do it alone or with the assistance of a divorce attorney. If you use an attorney, the attorney you get to do your uncontested divorce cannot represent both of you. Because each spouse will have their own unique interests, the ethical principles for lawyers will require that a lawyer represent only one of the parties, not both of them. The lawyer must represent one of you and not the other. The lawyer will need to know at the outset which of you is his or her client and which of you is not.
Generally, every jurisdiction will require you to prepare similar documents to initiate a divorce: a petition for divorce, documents proving both parties are aware of and participating in the case, financial affidavits disclosing everything each spouse has, a settlement agreement, and a proposed judgment. Some jurisdictions may also require you to attend couples' therapy prior to granting the divorce.
After you produce the documents, and both spouses are satisfied with the papers, you sign and file them. In some jurisdictions that is it; your case will be handled based on the paperwork and you will receive your divorce judgment in the mail. In other jurisdictions, you are required to attend a hearing with your spouse to swear that everything in the divorce paperwork is true and correct and that you were not pressured into signing it.
How Much It Costs
The prices for uncontested divorces vary widely. At a minimum you will have court filing fees. Additionally, you may have attorney fees if you require assistance with your paperwork. Still, at the end of the day, you will likely have fees of less than $2,000, even with an attorney. Every competent divorce attorney should offer some kind of uncontested divorce services package. You should always discuss your matter with a competent divorce attorney to determine whether you are actually a candidate for uncontested divorce.