Can I do an uncontested divorce?
I get asked this a lot. People want to know if they can avoid the knock-down, drag-it-out, expensive, emotional and lengthy court procedure of a contested divorce. The answer of course is “It depends.” (We lawyers are good at those kinds of answers). There are two, and only two, ways to get a divorce decree: 1. You and your spouse agree to all the terms of the decree or 2. You do not agree and the judge decides for you. If you and your spouse can agree to all the terms in the beginning, before anything is filed, you can achieve an uncontested divorce.
The irony of the entire process is that very often, what a judge ultimately orders in the end for a couple that does not agree is so very close to what the couple could have agreed to in the beginning if both understood the law and had been fair-minded. Therein is the importance of consulting with an attorney. You don’t know the law. And if you don’t know the law, how do you know what is fair? I am not talking about “fair” because one spouse is a jerk or a nut job – I am talking about legally fair.
I have met with countless individuals who, without the aid of an attorney, felt they had reached a “fair” agreement in their divorce yet the terms were wholly inequitable. I have met others who thought they were “screwed” by the terms of their do-it-yourself divorce but in actuality the result was fair. Would you perform surgery, even minor surgery, on yourself? The impact of a divorce can and often is tremendous. Don’t you want the impact it has on you and your family to be truly fair?
So what do you do? I have done hundreds of uncontested divorce cases and here is how it generally works: The first step is for you to meet with a capable and competent attorney. A good attorney will help you understand what is legally fair – even if they have to twist your arm a bit. Prepared with that knowledge, you have a better chance of having an open-minded discussion about the terms of your divorce with your soon-to-be-ex before anything is filed and battle lines are drawn in the sand. Generally your spouse (who perhaps expected an unreasonable or selfish proposal) will appreciate your reasonableness and willingness to compromise. Once major issues are decided between the two of you, paperwork is drawn up that captures the bulk of the agreement. The attorney will not only add the necessary language to make sure the terms are enforceable but will also add provisions that are essential to protect both of you in the future – provisions you would never think about on your own.
Identical copies of the paperwork are given to each of you and additional details are added, and tweaks and changes are made. Once the paperwork is “just so”, your spouse is encouraged to consult with their own attorney so that they can, if they wish, get a second opinion as to the fairness of the arrangement. The paperwork is signed and all the paperwork is filed at once – with only one filing fee. There are no court appearances; there are no nasty letters or “demands.” The parties have agreed because they understand what is legally fair and wish to move on with their life without the drama and expense of a contested divorce.
Can you do an uncontested divorce? Yes, and if divorce is your only option, you probably should. Or maybe you are the type of person that would rather spend thousands and thousands of dollars to fight for months on end and wind up with similar results anyway. If so, I have a list of good counselors for you.
By Ryan Johnson