Every divorce comes with several important decisions that have to be made. Being able to reach an agreement about these key decisions with your spouse ultimately determines how your divorce will proceed — including if the divorce will be contested or uncontested.
Whether you’ve been married for decades or a few years, the process of dissolving a marriage can involve many matters that may cause disputes or disagreements. How will your finances and property be divided? What about your debts? Where will your children live, and how will you split up parental responsibility? How much should be paid in child support? Should one spouse be required to help support the other financially through maintenance (formerly known as alimony)?
Broadly speaking, if the couple that is splitting up is able to agree on all of these questions and decisions, then the divorce is said to be uncontested. If there are any issues or elements of the divorce where the spouses do not see eye to eye, then the divorce is considered to be contested.
Contested Vs. Uncontested Divorce
A contested divorce occurs when there is a dispute over one or more issues, from parenting time to sorting out financial matters (such as dividing up debts or marital property).
The couple may not be able to reach common ground, making them unable to reach a suitable agreement. In other cases, one spouse may dig in their heels and be unwilling to compromise. Ultimately, if the parties can’t resolve their differences, the matter may need to go to trial and be litigated before a judge. In other cases, the parties may be able to reach an agreeable solution through mediation and negotiation, which can result in a settlement.
In contrast, an uncontested divorce is one in which both parties are able to agree when it comes to their children, their property, and all other decisions related to their divorce. Whereas a contested divorce may require a judge to make decisions on the spouses’ behalf, an uncontested divorce relies on agreements made between the parties, and will not involve a trial — though it’s important to remember that divorce is a legal process, and both parties will still need to meet all legal requirements, including complying with filing deadlines and appearing before the court for a “prove-up” to finalize the divorce.
An uncontested divorce can become contested if a disagreement about any element pertaining to the divorce comes up which requires resolution. Conversely, a contested divorce may be able to move forward as an uncontested divorce, as far as the courts are concerned, if agreements are reached through mediation or negotiation.
When Will an Uncontested Divorce Be the Right Fit?
Many people hope for an uncontested divorce because this process can often be quicker, less intrusive, and less emotionally draining than a contested proceeding. However, it’s important to keep in mind that an uncontested divorce will not be the right fit for everyone.
Broadly speaking, uncontested divorces are more common among couples who have few to no significant marital assets, or who do not have any children together.
Having a pre-nup or post-nup in place can also reduce the need for a contested divorce. This agreement can help streamline and simplify a divorce by making some key determinations about how many assets and debts will be divided ahead of time. An overlooked benefit of coming up with a premarital agreement is that it can allow the couple to gain some important clarity, leading them to discuss tough topics like money and childrearing with maturity and frankness early in their relationship. This can make it easier for both parties to be open to discussing these complex matters when they come up down the road.
A dissolution of marriage may also proceed as an uncontested divorce if one party does not respond with an Appearance and Answer to the other’s Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Even when a divorce is fairly “friendly,” it is incredibly important to properly respond with a formal Appearance and Answer to the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, in order to preserve all of your legal rights.
What Issues or Disagreements Must Be Addressed?
If a marriage is about entwining two parties together, then a divorce is about dissolving those bonds — a process that will almost always have financial and personal ramifications for everyone involved. Some of the common issues that may lead to a contested divorce include…
- Maintenance (formerly spousal support or alimony). Maintenance refers to the amount that one spouse must pay the other on an ongoing basis following a divorce.The purpose of maintenance is to help an ex-spouse support themselves and live independently after the dissolution of their marriage. Maintenance can be awarded to either party. There may be disagreements over who should receive maintenance, how much those payments should entail, and how long maintenance should be paid.
- Child support. Child support is intended to provide for the reasonable and necessary physical, mental and emotional health needs of the child. Parents may disagree over how much child support should be paid, which is determined by considering the income of each parent along with several other crucial, unique variables.
- Allocation of marital debt. When getting divorced, the parties must consider how they will divide up their shared debts.
- Division of marital property. In Illinois, all marital property is eligible to be divided during a divorce. Broadly speaking, marital property includes all assets and property acquired over the course of the marriage, and might include real estate, cars, furniture, and securities. Marital assets are meant to be divided equitably, based on each partner’s contributions to the marriage and their future opportunities for acquiring income.
- Parenting time and parental responsibilities. Parenting time refers to how often each parent will be responsible for the care of the child, including who the child will live with. In other states, this concept may be referred to as “custody” or “visitation.” “Parental responsibilities” encompasses both parenting time and significant decision-making responsibilities with respect to the child.
Contested Vs. Uncontested Divorce: Key Considerations
The many decisions involved in seeking to dissolve a marriage are never easy, particularly when it comes to weighing the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing a contested or uncontested divorce. As you consider all of your options and potential courses of action, it’s important to think about the unique variables of your situation. This might include asking questions such as…
Are there personal issues between spouses that make communication difficult?
An uncontested divorce requires frequent contact and communication with the other party. Can you trust yourself or the other person to communicate effectively and productively, when necessary? Will keeping up contact with this person put you or your loved ones in danger? It’s also important to think about the future, particularly if you and your ex-spouse plan to share parenting time. For instance, a drawn-out or contentious divorce process could make it much more difficult to maintain an amicable relationship down the road.
Have you thought about the timeline and costs?
Generally speaking, contested divorce proceedings are considered to be more expensive and time-consuming, usually due to the greater degree of effort involved. With a contested divorce, it is much more likely for both parties to have to get involved in formal legal procedures, including filing and responding to various motions throughout the course of the case, making court appearances, and submitting to formal discovery. However, these steps and expenses may be worth it to help you achieve your desired outcome.
Are you taking steps to take care of yourself and your loved ones?
Whether swift and simple or drawn-out and complicated, divorce can take a toll on your physical and mental health. This is a period that comes with big and often difficult emotions, including anxiety, anger, and stress. Remember to practice self-care and make time for adequate sleep, good nutrition, and exercise. Give yourself grace as you take steps that can help you move forward on a personal level, like getting counseling or figuring out how to share the news with your closest friends and family. Similarly, think about how to best deliver this news to your children, and come up with a plan to help them navigate through this difficult transition.
The Importance of Working With an Experienced Family Law Attorney
Facing a divorce can be intimidating, to say the least. Remember, you don’t have to go through this big transition alone.
As your married life devolves into complicated legal jargon like “dissolution,” “dissipation,” and “valuation,” it’s important to find someone who you can trust to be on your side and guide you through this complex process with confidence and peace of mind, at every step of the way.
Whether your divorce is contested or uncontested, a skilled lawyer will help you navigate through this process and give you the guidance you need — should you turn to mediation, tactful negotiation, or even fighting it out in court.
From beginning to end, a knowledgeable family law attorney can…
- Help you understand all of your options
- Guide you through the ins and outs of the divorce process
- File and complete all necessary paperwork (including petitions, responses, judgments etc.)
- Carefully review your agreements/settlements
- Consider all potential issues and think ahead to post-decree matters, including determining college contributions or re-visiting child support or a parenting agreement
Facing a Contested or Uncontested Divorce? We’re Here for You
Have any more questions about the differences between a contested and uncontested divorce? Interested in discussing your unique situation with an experienced Chicago family law attorney?
Navigating a divorce can be confusing and exhausting, even under the best of circumstances. Here in Illinois, there are many details and conditions in family law that can be difficult to fully understand. At the Law Offices of J. Jeltes, Ltd., we make it our mission to ensure that our clients understand the divorce process at each and every step of the way.
Our attorneys and staff are skilled in handling legal matters in some of life’s most challenging family transitions, including divorce and the many considerations that go along with it — such as issues of property division, maintenance (formerly spousal support or alimony), child support, allocation of marital debt, and parenting time.
Our legal professionals are driven, attentive, and dedicated to achieving the best results possible. We truly understand that every situation is unique, and before hiring our firm our attorneys will provide you with a comprehensive one-on-one consultation to discuss your legal concerns and goals.
If you have any more questions about any aspect of divorce in Illinois, we are here for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of experienced and compassionate advocates to continue the conversation.