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Contested vs Uncontested Divorce in California: What’s the Difference? 2024

Divorces are strenuous and difficult even when both parties are in agreement that a divorce is the ideal option for all involved parties. In a contested divorce, where some sort of disagreement or conflict exists, the divorce process can be even more overwhelming. A California divorce lawyer can help couples navigate the complexities and challenges of their divorce, regardless of the circumstances.

What Is a Divorce?

A divorce is essentially the legal dissolution of a marriage. The respective spouses will be free to remarry or enter into a new domestic partnership after the divorce, will separate their finances and assets, and will no longer be bound by their marriage. The couple must come to an agreement on various issues such as division of assets, child custody and visitation rights, etc. The divorce process has several stages and certain requirements for who can file.

Who Can File for a Divorce?

The bar is fairly low for filing for divorce in California. California allows for no-fault divorce, meaning either party can file for a divorce and does not need to prove that either party bears responsibility for the end of the marriage. California does, however, have residency requirements. At least one partner must have lived in the state for at least six months prior and in the county where the divorce will be filed for a minimum of three months.

Uncontested Divorce

Both an uncontested and contested divorce have the same requirements for filing, but in an uncontested divorce, both parties agree on the terms of their divorce. This includes agreement about:

  • Child custody and visitation rights
  • Financial decisions, such as who may keep the house or how to divide property or finances
  • All other terms of the divorce, such as spousal support, alimony, etc.

Essentially, uncontested divorce is when both spouses are able to agree on every aspect of the terms of their divorce, thus avoiding the need to go to court.

Contested Divorce

Contested divorces are varied, as there are infinite reasons that a divorcing couple may not agree on every single term of their divorce. This can look like anything from disputes over property division to disagreements on who their children will live with. For this reason, it becomes harder to anticipate how long a contested divorce will take, how much it will cost, or what the outcome will be. It is also far more likely that a contested divorce will end up in court.

Do All Contested Divorces Go to Court?

Some contested divorces go to court eventually. However, many divorces begin contested but end uncontested. There are several other options that a seasoned attorney may make use of when guiding their client through a contested divorce. Some options include:

  1. Divorce Mediation: Couples can meet with a mediator to try to resolve their disagreements, but they are not legally bound to the possible solutions they come up with.
  2. Divorce Arbitration: This is similar to mediation but is a legally binding way to come to a compromise without needing to go to court. An arbiter works with partners to create a solution, which is then legally binding.

Contested v. Uncontested Divorce: Which One Is the Better Option?

There are valid reasons for both a contested and an uncontested divorce. Which one is applicable to your situation is entirely dependent on you and your partner. Situations where you may choose an uncontested divorce include:

  • Both you and your spouse agree that the divorce is in your interests. Neither party is to blame for the divorce.
  • Both you and your partner’s primary concern is the cost of the divorce. An uncontested divorce may save you money.
  • Your desire is to resolve the divorce as quickly as possible, not to “win.”
  • You do not have children and do not have concerns about visitation or child custody rights.
  • There is no history of emotional, physical, or financial abuse. You and your partner have good communication, respect, and the ability to compromise.

Contested divorces are often necessary when there are complications such as a history of abuse, child custody disagreements, complicated financial decisions, etc. If you are unsure what route is right for you, consulting with a legal representative may provide clarity.


Q: How Long Is a Contested Versus an Uncontested Divorce in California?

A: How long a divorce takes depends on the situation. All divorces in California will take a minimum of six months, given the mandatory waiting period for divorce. Contested divorces are much more likely to be drawn out, however, as both parties must either finally work out an agreement or eventually let the courts make certain decisions for them. This can even take years, depending on the parties involved, their willingness to negotiate, and the speed of legal systems.

Q: How Much Does a No Contest Divorce Cost in California?

A: How much a no-contest divorce costs in California can vary significantly. Since uncontested divorces do not involve going to court and are typically resolved more swiftly than contested divorces, it should be cheaper. Even in an uncontested divorce, however, it can be wise to work with a seasoned attorney, and there will still be filing fees for paperwork. Talking with a qualified legal representative can help you estimate how much your divorce may cost you.

Q: Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Divorce?

A: You aren’t legally required to have a lawyer to file for divorce. While a DIY divorce is legally an option in California, it is rarely the preferred route, and there will still be fees involved. Working with a legal representative can give assurance that you are filing all required documents correctly, that your divorce is valid, and that you have been advocated for. This is particularly necessary if there are any complications or disputes in your divorce case, such as in a contested divorce.

Q: What if One Spouse Does Not Want a Divorce?

A: While it can simplify the process for both parties to want the divorce, it is not a requirement, and one party can initiate the divorce without the approval of their partner. If one spouse is not in agreement about the divorce in the first place, however, it is very likely that the divorce will be contested.

Finding a Trustworthy Divorce Lawyer

Regardless of whether you are facing an uncontested or contested divorce, navigating the legal system can be extremely overwhelming. If you and your partner are struggling to come to an amicable agreement about the terms of your divorce, it can be even more challenging.

Working with a dependable and experienced California divorce lawyer can help you advocate for yourself and resolve your divorce as quickly as possible. This can save you from unnecessary emotional strain, as well as an excess financial burden. If you’re searching for a trustworthy divorce lawyer to lean on, reach out to our team at All American Law today.

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