In Maryland, as in most states, a divorce can be contested or uncontested. We’ve touched on this topic before when we talked about mediation, litigation, four-way meetings and collaborative law, but let’s explore it in more detail. As Maryland divorce lawyers, we get approached quite frequently by clients who are looking for an uncontested divorce but don’t fully understand what it requires.
What is Uncontested Divorce?
An uncontested divorce is when both spouses (a) agree to get divorced and (b) agree on the terms of the divorce. You don’t have to agree on everything right away. However, if after some negotiations you can come up with a marital settlement and separation agreement that you are both happy with, you’ve got yourself an uncontested divorce. The negotiations we mentioned typically happen between counsel for the parties during a mediation when a trained, impartial mediator helps you communicate, or during a four-way meeting or the collaborative process . Lawyers are involved in different ways during this process, and it is always a good idea to get professional legal advice before starting the divorce proceedings.
Uncontested divorce is definitely a much smoother and less stressful process than a contested divorce. If you are on good terms with your spouse, it’s advisable to keep the divorce out of court for the sake of a swift resolution and your own peace and sanity. Keep in mind that you would still have to attend a court hearing even if you have the marital settlement and separation agreement. The judge or magistrate will hear your testimony and will review the agreement to ensure it’s lawful and fair. The court aims to prevent situations when one spouse coerces or pressures the other spouse into giving up certain rights or assets.
What is Contested Divorce?
As you’ve probably guessed by now, in a contested divorce one of the parties doesn’t agree with the decision to divorce, doesn’t approve of the grounds for divorce or disagrees on certain terms of divorce. Some common issues spouses frequently disagree on include:
- Child custody, support and visitation
- Division of property and assets
- Terms of alimony
- Division of common debt
- Validity of a prenuptial agreement
If spouses can’t arrive at a compromise on some of these or other issues, they typically have to go to court and have a judge settle their dispute. While this sounds reasonable, a contested divorce can be much more expensive and may take twice (and even 3 times!) as long as an uncontested divorce. However, there are also some benefits to it. During a contested divorce, complete financial discovery takes place, which means both spouses have to reveal the full list of their assets. This will prevent either spouse from hiding any assets to avoid splitting them. Contested divorces are commonly used by spouses with significant assets or complicated family situations.
Can I Stop a Contested Divorce?
If by stop you mean take it out of court, then, yes, you can. This is called a settlement. Because a contested divorce involves numerous pre-trial conferences and filings, you have plenty of time to settle with your spouse if you finally agree on the terms or you both agree to compromise. This settlement will be mutually binding and neither spouse will be able to appeal. If you agree on some issues, but not all of them, you can ask for a separate hearing to resolve only the issues in question.
Have any other questions about contested or uncontested divorce? Feel free to get in touch with our Maryland family law experts for professional advice.