What is a Contested Divorce?

Katelyn Morgan

Divorces that include litigation and court intervention are called “contested” or “litigated” because the couples involved cannot reach an agreement on one or more points.

While over 90% of divorces are resolved amicably through agreement between the spouses, there are situations when the couple simply cannot come to terms with one another. What follows is a comprehensive analysis of contentious divorces.

Reasons for a Contested Divorce

There are several common reasons why a divorce may become contested:

  • Disagreement over property division – Disputes can arise when family members disagree on the division of property. Disagreements arise when people have different opinions on who should benefit from a certain situation.
  • Disputes over alimony/spousal support – It’s possible for one partner to seek maintenance payments forever, while the other partner would rather not make any. The length of the couple’s wedding vows may play a role.
  • Child custody issues – Controversial cases generally boil down to heated disagreements over parenting plans, visitation schedules, and legal and physical custody.
  • Child support disputes – The amount of child support that one parent should pay each month is another contentious issue that can arise between partners.
  • Debts and liabilities – Disagreements can also arise when partners try to divide up marital debts including mortgages, vehicle loans, and credit card balances.
  • Behavioral issues – Divorce proceedings might be complicated by one spouse’s unreasonable demands due to adultery, abuse, or addiction.

Contested divorces are the result of a marriage’s emotional, financial, and legal dissolution when the spouses involved cannot agree on how to proceed.

The Contested Divorce Process

Contested divorces follow a different legal process than uncontested ones. Here are some key steps:

  • Filing the petition – The divorce process begins when one spouse submits a petition to the court. Dates of marriage and divorce, as well as the names of any children, are recorded.
  • Response from other spouse – Each spouse who wants to weigh in on the ongoing debate must submit a separate response. The battle for control begins after that.
  • Discovery – In this phase of the process, both parties gather evidence by submitting requests for documents, interrogatories, and depositions.
  • Filing of motions – During discovery, both parties have the opportunity to submit motions regarding contentious issues like interim support awards. These motions are decided by the judge.
  • Settlement conferences – In an effort to resolve some or all of the difficulties, the court may mandate settlement discussions. But in very contentious cases, these talks frequently fall through.
  • Trial preparation – In the absence of a settlement, the attorneys for both sides will take depositions, call in experts, and prepare pretrial memoranda setting forth their respective accounts of the events.
  • Trial – Trials for contentious divorces are very similar to those in the civil court system. The judge hears evidence, questions witnesses, and conducts cross-examinations. It may take a few days.
  • Judge’s decision – The judge hears both sides of the case and writes a final divorce decision based on his or her findings.
  • Appeals – If either party to a legal dispute is dissatisfied with a judge’s ruling, they have the option of appealing the decision to a higher court.

Contested divorces take significantly longer than uncontested ones, frequently extending to a year or more, and the process is generally similar across the country, though the specifics on topics like property division, alimony, and child concerns vary by state law.

The Role of Divorce Lawyers

Divorce lawyers play an indispensable role in contested divorces. They:

  • Offer expert guidance on state divorce laws and process
  • Manage paperwork like petitions and motions
  • Represent clients in settlement negotiations
  • File requests and conduct discovery to build the case
  • Examine witnesses and present evidence at trial
  • Argue on behalf of their client’s interests to the judge
  • Handle appeals if necessary

Anyone who is going through a disputed divorce should look for divorce lawyers right once. There ought to be highly trained lawyers handling these cases. Experienced divorce attorneys who are skilled at settlement and ADR can also help reduce the time and money spent on a traditional trial.

Costs of a Contested Divorce

Divorces that are disputed are much more expensive than those that aren’t. The most significant costs are:

  • Attorney’s fees – Due to the additional time and effort required to resolve a contentious matter, legal expenses can quickly climb into the tens of thousands of dollars. Expert witnesses are also more expensive to hire.
  • Filing fees – Courts require payment of filing fees for a variety of pleadings, including motions, petitions, and subpoenas.
  • Discovery – Depositions, interrogatories, forensic accountants and other discovery costs stack up.
  • Trial – If it goes to trial, added lawyer time, travel, trial exhibits, and other costs apply.
  • Appeals – Appeals on final rulings mean even more lawyer fees and court costs.

Depending on the problems involved and the level of hostility between the spouses, a contested divorce might cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000. Over $100,000 is spent on some extremely complicated situations that involve custody evaluations, company appraisals, and heated arguments.

Tips for Avoiding a Contested Divorce

An amicable divorce is the best possible outcome for everyone involved. Some suggestions for keeping a divorce from becoming contentious:

  • Seek counseling first – If there is hope for resolving the issues, marriage counseling can help couples avoid divorce or make the process easier.
  • Discuss unresolved issues – When problems are discussed openly before emotions become too intense, reasonable solutions can be found.
  • Learn mediation skills – Learning to listen to one another, compromise, and look for areas of agreement can help even in the absence of a mediator.
  • Consult lawyers – Before a dispute escalates, it is important to get legal counsel about your rights and choices.
  • Act in good faith – By showing cooperation and fairness, you can encourage your partner to do the same.
  • Move slowly – Divorcing when emotions are high is never a good idea. Think things over and take your time.
  • Use a mediator – If disagreements persist, it’s a good idea to bring in a neutral third party to help with dialogue and issue solutions.

No one goes into a divorce expecting it to turn nasty. Smarter resolution choices can be made when one has a full understanding of the legal procedure, costs, and emotional implications of a contested matter.

An peaceful resolution is still possible for willing spouses in many cases with the help of professionals and compromise.

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Katelyn Morgan is an experienced divorce attorney. She understands family law and helps couples get divorced with minimal stress and dispute. Katelyn Morgan has won high-asset and difficult property division divorce cases. She fights hard for her clients and gets the greatest results. Katelyn Morgan speaks at divorce and family law events in addition to her professional business.