Uncontested divorce: everything you need to know

Uncontested divorce is the fastest, easiest way to get divorced. Learn how below.

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What's Inside

What's Inside

Divorce is never easy. When a couple decides to part ways, emotions tend to run high, making even straightforward logistical processes tense and stressful.

That said, some divorce proceedings are easier than others. For example, an uncontested divorce is the fastest and simplest way to get a divorce. It can also be the best path for building a healthy post-divorce relationship. 

What is an uncontested divorce?

An uncontested divorce occurs when both parties agree on everything and have reached a settlement that details all the key issues. As a result, the parties don’t need to go to court to have a judge determine issues such as marital property, spousal support, child support, and child custody. An uncontested divorce can also include default situations where one party files for divorce and the other party doesn’t show up to proceedings or doesn’t respond to the filing.

Uncontested divorces—also called “simplified dissolution of marriage,” “summary dissolution” or “agreed divorce”—are much simpler than other divorce proceedings. That’s probably why 90% of divorces in the United States are uncontested. In some cases, divorces are uncontested from the outset. In other cases, the parties in a contested divorce reach an agreement during a later stage of the process, which results in an uncontested divorce.

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Do you need a lawyer in uncontested divorces?

Although attorneys aren’t required in an uncontested divorce, it can be a good idea to hire one. 

For example, questions might arise regarding legal issues that only a legal professional can answer. Complicated issues such as jointly owned assets or child support may also arise. In these cases, attorneys can often provide guidelines and suggestions that can help the parties reach an agreement that feels fair to both sides. 

Last (but not least), certain issues, such as child support, are dictated by law. That’s why it’s important that any settlement meets all the necessary legal requirements. Otherwise it will not be approved when submitted to the court. 

So even if you and your spouse are in full agreement about every issue, it’s often a good idea to have an attorney review your settlement agreement, ensuring you haven’t overlooked anything or given up any important rights. It can also be helpful to have an attorney prepare the documentation to prevent delays due to errors or missing items. 

Advantages of uncontested divorce

There are many benefits to an uncontested divorce, for example: 

Save time and money

Divorce proceedings that include trials are long and, in turn, expensive for a few reasons

For one, a contested divorce includes a legal process called discovery. During this, both sides are required to provide evidence regarding the contested issues. (For example, documents such as bank records and tax returns may be required to determine financial issues.) That evidence is reviewed and then presented during the trial. 

After discovery, people often wait months or even years for a court date. And some cases may require multiple hearings, and the longer things take, the more it costs. In extreme cases, legal fees for a contested divorce can reach anywhere between tens of thousands to millions of dollars.

Uncontested divorces save significant time and money by eliminating trials. Instead, the process for an uncontested divorce is usually streamlined and expedited. One reason is that the parties only argue about key issues. For less important matters, it’s often necessary to compromise, because the more issues that you and your spouse have to align on, the longer the process takes, and the more expensive and emotionally difficult it will be. 

Have a say in the outcome

Saving time and money isn’t the only advantage of an uncontested divorce. When you and your spouse work together to reach an agreement, you maintain control of the outcome. While that may involve compromise, you still have a say. But when a divorce goes to trial, it’s all in the judge’s hands. They may rule against your requests—with no opportunity for compromise. 

Maintain a better relationship with your ex

Contested divorces pit one spouse against the other, with each side trying to get as much as possible at the expense of the other. This can exacerbate the tension in an already tense situation, especially when ex-spouses need to maintain a relationship, for example in joint custody.

In an uncontested divorce, on the other hand, spouses work together to reach an agreement, building the foundation for constructive interactions in the future. Likewise, since they are actively involved in the process and accept the outcome, there are fewer reasons for tension or legal proceedings in the future. 

An uncontested divorce isn’t right for everyone

An uncontested divorce can be a great solution if both parties are able to reach an agreement on key issues. If they aren’t able to see eye to eye, then an uncontested divorce probably isn’t a realistic option. 

Spouses may find it hard to reach an agreement if there is a lot of acrimony, infidelity or allegations of abuse in the relationship. Couples with significant joint financial assets may also have a hard time reaching a settlement agreement outside of court. 

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How do you get an uncontested divorce?

If you think that an uncontested divorce is the right option for you, the first step is to sit down with your spouse and try to reach an agreement about key issues, including:

  • Child custody
  • Visitation
  • Finances
  • Marital property
  • Spousal support (alimony)
  • Shared debt

If you’re able to agree on all of these issues, either on your own or with a mediator, you then need to submit a written agreement or settlement to the court detailing everything you’ve agreed upon. You can either write the agreement on your own or consult with an attorney. 

The requirements for an uncontested divorce vary from state to state, so check the procedure in your state before deciding whether it’s the right option for you. In some cases, a judge may sign off on the agreement directly. In other cases, the parties may be required to appear briefly in court. The judge may ask questions to ensure that both spouses understand what they are signing and that no one was coerced into agreement.

The other way to get an uncontested divorce is by default. If you file divorce papers and have them served to your spouse, but your spouse doesn’t respond within a set amount of time by filing a response, then the divorce may be considered uncontested. The court will evaluate your request and may approve it, even without input from your spouse. 

Should you choose an uncontested divorce?

Most couples choose an uncontested divorce, and that isn’t by chance. It’s an option with significant advantages that make it attractive to many couples. However, just as every marriage is unique, so is every divorce. If you’re uncertain whether an uncontested divorce is the right option for you, you may want to consult with an attorney before making your decision. 

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Frequently asked questions

What is an uncontested divorce?

An uncontested divorce is a divorce where the parties are able to come to an agreement about key issues like marital property, spousal support, child support, child custody, joint debt and more.

Do you need an attorney for an uncontested divorce?

In most cases, an attorney is not required for an uncontested divorce. However, it’s often a good idea to consult with a lawyer to ensure there are no oversights, errors or misunderstandings in the settlement that you file.

What are the advantages of an uncontested divorce?

An uncontested divorce saves significant time and money. It also can reduce tension between spouses, building the foundation for a more positive relationship in the future.

When isn't uncontested divorce a realistic alternative?

In complex cases with significant financial holdings, couples may find it difficult to reach a settlement agreement on their own. In some cases, a neutral mediator may be able to help them reach a settlement agreement, but in many cases, the divorce proceedings will have to take place in court. Likewise, in cases where there is deep acrimony between spouses, an uncontested divorce may not be possible.

How do you proceed with an uncontested divorce?

The first step in an uncontested divorce is reaching a settlement agreement with your spouse. Start by sitting down with them and discussing what to do about critical issues like marital property, spousal support, child support, child custody and joint debt.

How do you get an uncontested divorce?

Although procedures vary from state to state, in most cases you need to submit a settlement agreement to the court for approval.

What are the benefits of an uncontested divorce?

Uncontested divorces simplify the divorce process and save significant time and money for all parties. In addition, they can help reduce tension and build the foundation for a healthier future relationship.

Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

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