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What Is an Uncontested Divorce?

Two men in having marriage problems, sitting down back to back, and contemplating an uncontested divorce.

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If you and your spouse have agreed to divorce, you may have heard that you can avoid expensive, lengthy court proceedings by making sure it’s “uncontested.” But what is an uncontested divorce, and how do you get one?

What Does Uncontested Divorce Mean?

In the past, when one spouse wanted a divorce, the other spouse generally had to agree to it. If they opposed or ‘contested‘ it, the spouse seeking the divorce could attempt to prove that it should be granted over the other’s objection. This required that they prove sufficient ‘grounds,’ like abandonment, abuse, imprisonment, mental illness, or other reasons set out by local law.

If the petitioner (the spouse filing the initial divorce papers) didn’t demonstrate enough ‘cause‘ to convince a judge, the court would refuse to grant the divorce. Even if the spouses lived separately afterward, they could not legally remarry. That has since changed.

In the modern era, every state allows couples to divorce regardless of whether they both want to do so. Refusing to sign divorce papers can delay the resolution of your case, but you can no longer force your spouse to remain married to you against their will. Be aware, however, that you must be able to ‘serve‘ your spouse with notice of your intent to divorce them. If you can’t locate your spouse, some places allow you to serve them by publication; if your efforts are unsuccessful, you can petition the court to enter a divorce decree.

Nevertheless, many people still use the term “uncontested divorce,” meaning one where the parties agree on the major issues. It is usually easier and faster to finalize an uncontested divorce; lawyers may not be necessary and courts often streamline the necessary proceedings. In some jurisdictions, couples that wish to file an amicable divorce can even collaborate on one set of joint paperwork.

Who Can File an Uncontested Divorce?

Couples with minor children or significant assets may not qualify for a ‘simplified dissolution,’ the fastest and easiest kind of divorce. Uncontested proceedings are also a quick option. This choice can significantly reduce the expense and time necessary to finalize your divorce, even if you have substantial assets and minor children.

If you and your spouse can agree on custody of your children and division of marital property, you can file for an uncontested divorce. Attorneys may not even be necessary, which saves additional time (and money). One spouse initiates the proceedings by filing a petition or complaint for divorce; then, the other files their answer. Usually, the parties indicate that the proceeding is uncontested in their divorce filings so that the court can direct the case appropriately.

The parties may each file additional documentation reflecting their agreements and requesting the court enter an order ending their marriage. The court may or may not hold a brief hearing before entering a ‘divorce decree.’ This order ends the marriage and incorporates the parties’ agreements as part of the official record.

How Quickly Can I Get a No-Contest Divorce?

The time it takes to complete a non-contested divorce also depends on where you live, since some states have mandatory waiting periods or separation requirements. However, a designation of “no contest” streamlines the filing process, eliminates the need for a lengthy hearing or trial, and reduces the amount of required court intervention. In some states, you won’t need to appear before the court at all; in others, a brief appearance is necessary to confirm, under oath, your wish to divorce.

How Do I Get Started?

In many cases, you can file an uncontested divorce online. Although forms are often available directly from your local court, an online divorce service can help guide you through the process, providing checklists to ensure you’ve completed all the requirements and connecting you to the necessary forms. They often have resources to help you understand what to expect and what to do next; many can also connect you with legal professionals to answer questions or provide legal services for a reasonable fee.

You and your spouse should review your financial information and discuss your wishes for custody and visitation of any minor children. You may wish to utilize a professional ‘mediator‘ or other third-party dispute resolution service to help you negotiate the terms of these agreements. After you have reached an agreement, memorialize your decisions about property in a marital settlement agreement. If applicable, create a ‘parenting plan‘ that records your decisions about custody and visitation of your minor children.

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you and your spouse are struggling with DIY options but want to get an uncontested divorce, you may consider working with a divorce attorney. Experienced advice can help make the process as quick, efficient, and painless as possible.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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