Uncontested vs Contested Divorce
Uncontested = you and your spouse agree on the major points of the dissolution; Contested = you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement on the major points of the dissolution.
If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement on the major issues in how your marriage should be dissolved, you will probably need to hire an attorney to represent you in the complex, contested divorce proceeding. Even if you are able to come to agreements on the major issues in your divorce, an attorney is often helpful and even necessary to help you navigate the process that must be followed.
Initial Status Conference
You will be required to attend an Initial Status Conference (ISC) where the judge, or clerk in many cases, sets forth deadlines in your case and often schedules Temporary Orders Hearings or Uncontested Final Orders Hearings. In some cases, mediation may also be scheduled at the ISC.
Attorneys vs Pro Se
Contested divorces often involve an attorney on at least one side, if not both. Uncontested divorces involve attorneys less often, but as stated above, attorneys can still be very helpful to navigate the complexities of even an uncontested divorce to ensure that parties understand what they are agreeing to and that what they are agreeing to on paper is what they meant to agree to. To be clear, one attorney cannot represent both parties to a divorce. One attorney may represent one client.
In a contested divorce, attorneys may engage in a lengthy period of discovery. This is where they investigate you and your spouse's claims. This includes examining documents such as tax filings, business holdings, and can also include correspondence between you and your spouse.
Discovery can be a long and costly process and may include responding to document requests, subpoenas, witness interviews, and potentially an assigned professional who will interact with any minor children make recommendations regarding what parenting plan is in the best interest of the children.
Contested divorces are not cheap. They can cost thousands of dollars or more in court and attorney fees, depending upon the number and complexity of disputes to be litigated and the reasonableness of each party.
One way to circumvent the costly litigation process, is to use a mediator to come to an agreement on the key issues of the divorce rather than fighting it out in court. Indeed, in El Paso County, most domestic courts require that the parties attend at least one mediation session prior to allowing you to proceed to final hearing. If both parties are willing, a mediator can help the process by hashing out each others objections where the parties can understand where the other party is at and negotiate to come to a happy (or not so happy) compromise. If the parties cannot satisfactorily come to agreement on all points, litigation is still available as a backup to iron out remaining points (or all of the points if mediation fails completely).
If you and your spouse agree on all of the main points in your dissolution of marriage, the process is generally much less expensive and can be fairly smooth.
To start your case, you and your spouse may choose to file your petition for dissolution or legal separation together. This saves you both some filing expense as there is one filing cost rather than one for each of you. From there you will be required to file some other documents and create a Separation Agreement. Upon completing a jointly agreed to Separation Agreement (and Parenting Plan if children are involved) the court will allow you to file that along with a proposed Decree.
Presuming the documents you filed meet the criteria of the court and you have filed a Notice to Set, the judge assigned to your case will schedule a hearing to finalize the divorce at least 91 days following the initial filing. Provided both parties are still in agreement and the agreements are fair and in the best interests of your child(ren) (in the case of people with kids), the court will confirm you understand your agreements, approve them, and enter a decree of dissolution.
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