Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce in California – What’s the Difference?

By Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP | Dec 15, 2022

If you are going through a divorce, or are about to start the process, you likely have a lot of questions. Although divorce is very common, it is often foreign and intimidating for individuals who are going through it for the first time. It can help to understand some basics so that you can make informed decisions about your divorce process.

Contested vs. uncontested divorce is one of the most important concepts to know when you are separating from your spouse. The type of divorce that you have may alter or change the pace of the entire divorce process. Fortunately, there are choices that you can make to streamline your divorce and achieve the easiest legal process possible.

Uncontested Divorces

Uncontested divorces occur when both spouses agree on the major factors that are important in a divorce. These factors include:

  • Asset Division: This is the amount of assets that each spouse receives, including property, savings, investments, stocks, etc.
  • Spousal Support: Also known as alimony, spousal support is a monthly stipend given by a higher-earning spouse to a lower-earning spouse. Not all divorces call for spousal support.
  • Child Support: Child support occurs when one parent pays a monthly stipend to the other parent to make up for a lower portion of custody or care. This is used to make each parent’s contribution fair.
  • Child Custody: This encompasses the plan for how much time, if any, each parent will spend as your child’s guardian.
  • Debt Division: Just as assets must be divided, debt must also be redistributed between the two spouses.

These are the key considerations in many divorces. Your divorce will be uncontested if you and your spouse agree on the terms of these considerations. In some cases, if you agree on terms from the beginning, you may not need to go to court at all for your divorce.

Contested Divorces

Conversely, contested divorces occur when the spouses disagree on one or more major issues in the divorce process. Even if you agree on most things but cannot concur on one major topic, your divorce is considered contested.

In contested divorces, you will have to go through courtroom litigation. This process can be complicated and emotionally draining, as your attorneys must negotiate terms until they reach a compromise. This can take a long time, especially if neither you nor your spouse is willing to budge on your terms.

Mediation vs. Litigation

If you have an uncontested divorce, or if you and your spouse are willing to work collaboratively to determine your divorce terms, mediation may be an option for you. During this process, you and your spouse meet with one mediator, who facilitates a conversation between the two of you. During this conversation, your job is to determine the details of your divorce. This tactic is effective for couples who are divorcing amicably or who have similar ideas of how the divorce should go.

Litigation is a more commonly understood method of divorce. During litigation, both spouses get their own legal representation. These attorneys collaborate with each other to negotiate terms on behalf of their clients. There is much less direct contact between the spouses, but arguing over terms often takes much longer and can be contentious. Litigation is the only option if you and your spouse have a contested divorce.


Q: What Happens If a Divorce Is Contested in California?

A: If your divorce is contested, you must go through divorce litigation to settle your terms. This means hiring a lawyer and allowing them to negotiate on your behalf. You may have to undergo “discovery,” in which each side gathers information about a certain contested topic. The judge may have to make a determination if you and your attorneys cannot come to an agreement on your own. You risk receiving poor divorce terms this way.

Q: When Can an Uncontested Divorce in California Be Finalized?

A: The average uncontested divorce in California can be finalized within six months of filing. This is essentially the shortest amount of time that a divorce can take, and it simply accounts for the paperwork and basic requirements of the divorce process. Contested divorces often take a year or more, as negotiations drag out and become complicated. Please note that you must live apart from your spouse for at least six months before you can file for divorce in California.

Q: What Are the Stages of a Contested Divorce?

A: Stage 1 is the beginning, where one spouse serves divorce papers detailing proposed terms. The receiving spouse has 20 days to respond.

Stage 2 involves motions and temporary orders. If the couple cannot reach an agreement, the case moves to court. The judge may make a temporary ruling during this time.

Stage 3 is discovery, where both sides accumulate information about key dispute topics.

Stage 4 is the trial, where a judge looks at the evidence and makes final decisions.

Q: What Is the Difference Between Contested and Uncontested Cases?

A: In an uncontested divorce, both members of the couple agree on the proposed terms of divorce, and no negotiation is needed. In fact, they may not need to go to court at all if they had worked out the terms of their divorce themselves. In a contested divorce, the couple does not agree on one or more major issues in the divorce. In these scenarios, the court must get involved to determine what should happen.

Contact Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP

If you are going through a divorce of any kind, it is important to have the right legal team on your side. Our team at Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, is highly experienced and gives you the best possible resources for your divorce or family law issue. Our contested and uncontested divorce attorneys can represent you during negotiations of any kind, and we offer mediation services as well. No matter the type of divorce you are going through, we have the experience to ensure that your process is smooth and successful.

For more information about our firm, or to set up an appointment, contact Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, online.

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