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Contested Divorce: Process, Timeline, and Cost

A contested divorce is when spouses disagree on key issues related to ending their marriage. Learn all about contested divorce in this guide.

evident Editorial Team
December 6, 2023
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When the decision to divorce is made, many believe it's as simple as signing papers and parting ways. That's not always the case, particularly when it is a contested divorce.

Primarily, divorces fall into two categories: contested and uncontested. The distinction between them lies in the agreement, or lack thereof, between the spouses on pivotal matters such as property division, child custody, and financial support.

This guide will cover the main question--what does contested divorce mean--and we'll offer insight into the process, timeline, and cost implications to help you navigate this challenging time.

Key Takeaways

What is a Contested Divorce?

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A contested divorce is when one or both parties disagree on key issues related to the dissolution of their marriage. These disagreements can span a range of topics, from child custody and spousal support to division of assets and debts. 

Contested divorces often require detailed legal procedures, multiple court visits, and potentially a full court trial. It also leads to more legal fees and potentially heightened emotional strain.

Why do couples opt for this challenging route? Reasons vary from emotional ties and the hope of reconciliation to disputes over assets or child upbringing.

Regardless of the reason, it's a path that demands patience, resilience, and the guidance of skilled family law and divorce attorneys.

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce

The opposite of a contested divorce is an uncontested one, where both parties agree on all significant matters, eliminating the need for any court intervention.

Uncontested divorces mean no disputes and no drawn-out court trials, resulting in lesser costs and emotional toll.

Here's an overview of the differences:

Criteria Contested Divorce Uncontested Divorce
Key Issues Disputes on key issues Agreement on all major decisions
Court Involvement Extended court involvement No or minimal court intervention
Costs and Emotional Toll Higher costs Reduced costs and stress

Deciding which route to take depends on individual circumstances and is not always in your control, but knowledge of the differences can aid in making an informed choice.

The Contested Divorce Process

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When a contested divorce occurs, you'll need to go through several steps in the divorce proceedings to get to the finish line. It can involve legal filings, hearings, settlement proposals, and a trial.

Let's unravel this step-by-step.

1. Initiation

The process kickstarts with one spouse filing a divorce petition. This official document outlines the grounds for divorce and their stance on pivotal issues such as marital property, child custody, and spousal support.

2. Response

Upon receiving the divorce petition, the other spouse has a specified timeframe to respond. If the other spouse contests any claims or makes counterclaims, the divorce is officially labeled "contested."

3. Discovery

This phase involves gathering evidence. Both parties often exchange information and documents through their attorneys and may even partake in depositions. It's a time-consuming phase aimed at building a strong case for the impending court sessions.

4. Settlement Proposals

Before reaching the courtroom, there are efforts made for an out-of-court settlement. Lawyers from both sides present settlement proposals, attempting to resolve disputes without judicial intervention.

5. Court Trials

If the settlement proposals don't lead to an agreement, the case proceeds to trial. Here, each party, represented by their attorney, presents their arguments before a judge. Post deliberation, the judge makes the final decisions on the contested issues.

6. Finalization

After the court's verdict, the divorce decree is drafted, encompassing all the court's decisions. Once signed, the divorce is official.

Remember, the contested divorce process can be unpredictable and lengthy. Being well-informed and having an experienced divorce attorney can significantly smooth the path.

Timeline of a Contested Divorce

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Due to the complexities involved, the timeline of a contested divorce is more extended and intricate than its uncontested counterpart.

While each case is unique, the following is a general overview of the expected timeline:

  1. Filing the Petition (1-2 months): Once a spouse files the divorce petition, the other spouse generally has 20-30 days to respond, depending on state laws.
  2. Discovery Phase (3-6 months): This period, involving information exchange and evidence collection, can be time-consuming, especially if there are financial assets, property, or child custody issues at stake.
  3. Settlement Discussions (2-4 months): Efforts to resolve disputes outside of court can vary in length, depending on the willingness of both parties to compromise.
  4. Court Trials (4-12 months): If an out-of-court settlement isn't achieved, the case proceeds to trial in divorce court. The length can fluctuate significantly based on court schedules and the intricacies of the case.
  5. Finalization (1 month): Post-trial, it generally takes a few weeks to draft, finalize, and sign the divorce decree.

In total, a contested divorce can last anywhere from a year to even longer. Certain regions may have nuances, so get advice from a local divorce attorney.

How Much Does a Contested Divorce Cost?

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Navigating a contested divorce isn't just emotionally taxing, it can weigh heavy on the pockets. Understanding the financial implications is essential to brace oneself for the journey.

Here's a breakdown:

  1. Attorney Fees: Engaging an experienced divorce attorney can be pricey. Depending on the complexity, legal fees can range from hourly rates to lump sum amounts.
  2. Court Costs: These include filing fees, charges for serving the divorce petition, and potential court trial fees.
  3. Discovery Costs: Gathering evidence, especially if hiring private investigators or financial analysts, can rack up substantial bills.
  4. Miscellaneous Expenses: Costs like child custody evaluations, real estate appraisals, or counseling sessions add up.
  5. Asset Division: Contested divorces might end in one party owing money through the division of marital assets or spousal support.
  6. Potential Long-Term Costs: Ongoing child support, alimony, or other financial commitments post-divorce should be considered.

The cost of divorce can also vary depending on the state you live in--there are differences among New York, Texas, Ohio, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, for example.

Being financially prepared is crucial, understanding that contested divorces cost more than uncontested ones.

Why Opt for an Experienced Divorce Attorney?

Contested divorces are intricate, emotionally draining, and legally complex. Amidst this tumultuous journey, having a seasoned divorce attorney is not just a choice—it's a necessity.

Here's why:

  1. Expertise: A skilled attorney understands the legal landscape, ensuring your interests are represented robustly.
  2. Negotiation Skill: They possess the finesse to navigate challenging settlement discussions, potentially avoiding prolonged court trials.
  3. Objective Advice: Emotions run high during divorces. An experienced attorney provides unbiased, logical guidance, which is crucial for making informed decisions.
  4. Resourceful: From hiring private investigators to engaging financial analysts, they have a network to aid your case.
  5. Protection: Divorces can get messy. An attorney ensures you're protected legally and financially.

While the upfront cost of hiring a renowned divorce lawyer might seem hefty, the long-term benefits—in terms of assets retained, rights protected, and emotional turmoil minimized—are invaluable.

People Also Ask

How long does a contested divorce take in NY?

The timeline for a contested divorce varies in New York, depending on the complexities. For instance, does the couple have to sort through child custody issues?

On average, it can span anywhere from 12 to 24 months. Specific circumstances, court backlogs, and the willingness of parties to negotiate can influence this duration.

What is a contested divorce in New York State?

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A contested divorce in New York is when spouses cannot agree on one or more crucial issues, such as child custody, property division, or spousal support. This disagreement necessitates court intervention to make the final decisions. 

Why would someone drag out a divorce?

Dragging out a divorce can be due to various reasons: emotional attachment, hoping for reconciliation, tactical advantages in terms of marital assets, or leveraging child custody. It's also sometimes employed to exhaust the other party into conceding terms.


woman, girl, freedom

Embarking on the journey of a contested divorce can be daunting, filled with legal intricacies, emotional hurdles, and significant financial implications.

Knowledge is power, and understanding the process, timeline, and costs can equip you to face the challenges head-on and reach the finish line to a brighter day.

Most importantly, aligning yourself with an experienced divorce attorney can provide the essential support, guidance, and protection you need.

As you navigate this chapter of your life, prioritize your well-being, seek ample support, and stay informed to ensure the best possible outcome for your future.