The Difference Between a Contested and Uncontested Divorce

Upon receiving the petition for divorce, spouses can contest or agree to the divorce. Here’s the difference between a contested and uncontested divorce in California.

An uncontested divorce is a divorce in which spouses reach an agreement before filing or going to court. In a contested divorce, spouses cannot reach an agreement and must settle divorce terms either in court or mediation.

What is a contested divorce?

A contested divorce is a divorce in which spouses cannot agree to divorce terms. The responding spouse contests (disputes) their spouse’s divorce petition; the divorce must be taken to trial or mediation.

What is an uncontested divorce?

An uncontested divorce is a divorce in which a spouse agrees to their spouse’s petition for divorce. In an uncontested divorce, the parties are not fighting. Instead, spouses can reach a divorce agreement before filing and then submit the agreement to a judge for approval.

The divorce process starts with one spouse filing for divorce. Then, the other spouse must respond to the divorce. The responding spouse can either contest (dispute) the divorce or file an uncontested response and agree to the divorce petition and terms. For more information on how to get an uncontested divorce, click here.

Uncontested Response

An uncontested divorce requires a spouse’s agreement to the initial divorce papers, also known as an uncontested response. A spouse’s initial divorce papers can include terms that have already been agreed to, making it easy for the responding spouse to say yes and make the process easier and cheaper for everyone. In an uncontested response, the spouse both agrees to the divorce and maintains their right to participate in the case in court.

Contested Response

In a contested divorce, the responding spouse contests the divorce. Even if the spouse disputes only one part of the Petition (Form FL-100), the divorce will be considered contested. After the spouse contests the divorce in their Response (Form FL-120), divorce terms must be settled either in court, mediation, or arbitration.

Reaching Divorce Terms in a Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce

In all divorces, the judge will have the final say. But, they’ll have much more of a say if your divorce is contested rather than uncontested. If you and your spouse agree to the divorce, it’s very likely that a judge will approve your initial divorce petition. In an uncontested divorce, you’re more likely to reach divorce terms with your spouse in an amicable manner without a judge getting involved. You and your spouse can reach divorce terms before filing and hire an attorney to draft your divorce agreement, petition, and response.

The judge will have more of a say in your divorce if it is contested. If your divorce is handled in court, a judge will look at all relevant facts about the case, then make decisions regarding property division, child custody, child support, and spousal support. Couples in a contested divorce can still settle divorce terms out-of-court, but a judge must ultimately approve the terms of their divorce.

Choosing Whether to Contest The Divorce

In court, spouses can be pitted against each other and only fighting to protect themselves. Outside of court, spouses can reach divorce terms that work for both of them. If you and your spouse are willing to reach a divorce agreement outside of court, then it may be your best option to not contest the divorce. Tell your spouse that for the sake of you and your children (if you have any), divorce terms should be settled before filing. Explain to your spouse that reaching divorce terms before trial can save both of you tons of time, money, and stress. You’ll also have 30 days to respond to the divorce petition, so you can try to settle divorce terms with your spouse within that time.

If tensions are high and you don’t believe you can reach an agreement with your spouse, then your best option may be to settle divorce terms in court or mediation, with the help of an attorney. That way, you can protect your best interest. However, you shouldn’t feel pressured into agreeing to divorce terms that you’re not comfortable with. This can lead to serious problems down the road. Trying to modify the terms of your divorce after it’s been finalized can be extremely difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. If you’re not comfortable with the terms of your spouse’s divorce petition, you can reach an agreement that works for you in either court or mediation.

FAQs About No Contest vs. Contest Divorces

How much does a contested divorce cost in California?

Contested divorces cost a minimum of $870 (one $435 filing fee for the petition, another for the response); the divorce can become more expensive if you and your spouse have to go to mediation or trial to settle disputed issues. Couples who dispute one issue in trial end up paying between $15,000 and $19,000 for the divorce; resolving two or more issues in court typically costs between $21,000 and $26,000.

How long does a contested divorce take in California?

All divorces in California take a minimum of six months to complete, but contested divorces can take much longer. If a spouse contests the divorce, it can take anywhere between one and a few years for the divorce to be finalized.

Can you contest a default divorce in California?

If you haven’t submitted a Response to the Petition, you’ve given up your right to participate in the case and are agreeing to the terms listed in the initial divorce papers.

What happens at a contested divorce hearing in California?

At a California contested divorce hearing, both spouses present evidence that supports their claims. A judge then may decree a final order based on the facts and evidence presented.

Can you contest a divorce in California?

California is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that your spouse can divorce you even if you don’t agree to it. However, you can contest the terms of the divorce petition, specifically regarding matters like child custody, child support, property division, and spousal support.

Can I withdraw my consent to an uncontested divorce in California?

Technically yes, you can withdraw your consent to an uncontested divorce or cancel an order in a divorce case. However, this process is extremely complicated and you can best do so with the help of an experienced divorce attorney.

Can a divorce be contested after it is final in California?

After your divorce has been finalized, you can request to modify specific court orders regarding child support, child custody, spousal support, or property division if there has been “a significant change in circumstances” since the last ruling.

What are the advantages of a contested divorce?

Contested divorces can help resolve complicated divorce disputes. A judge acts as a neutral, third-party, and decrees a divorce judgment they believe is fair and in accordance with California’s laws.

Contact Us

If you’re questioning the difference between a contested and uncontested divorce in California, contact us. We’ll get you in touch with the most qualified divorce attorney for your unique case. Your first consultation is free. We’re here to help you 24/7.