Uncontested Divorce FAQ

Get answers to common questions about uncontested divorce, including how much it will cost, how long it will take, and whether you're a good candidate for this simple and quick way of getting divorced.

By , Legal Editor

Basically, an uncontested divorce means that a couple has agreed about the issues in their divorce. There are different kinds of uncontested divorce, but they all have this in common: The couple won't need to go to trial to have a judge make decisions for them on the details of their divorce. And that means they'll save both money and time.

What do we have to agree about to get an uncontested divorce?

If you want an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse must reach a divorce settlement agreement that includes all of the legal issues involved in ending your marriage, including:

A judge will have to approve your settlement agreement before signing your final divorce decree or judgment. That usually isn't a problem unless the agreement:

  • is clearly unfair
  • isn't in the best interests of any minor children you have with your spouse, or
  • resulted from coercion.

Can a contested divorce turn into an uncontested divorce?

Usually, the term "uncontested divorce" means that a couple has already reached a complete settlement agreement before starting the legal divorce process. That way, they can take advantage of all the time- and cost-saving benefits of uncontested divorce (discussed below). Typically, they'll include the written agreement along with the other paperwork when they file for divorce.

If you and your spouse can't agree about all of the issues before you file your initial divorce papers, your case will proceed as a contested divorce. But that doesn't necessarily mean that you'll have to go to trial. In fact, most couples who start out with a contested divorce eventually manage to settle their disputes out of court—usually with the help of lawyers, mediators, or both. Technically, their case is then uncontested, but that's not what courts (and this article) usually mean by "uncontested divorce."

What's the difference between uncontested divorce and simple or simplified divorce?

Some states or individual courts use different terms for uncontested divorce, such as "divorce by mutual consent" (in Maryland), or "divorce by consent decree" (in Arizona).

Other states have special streamlined procedures for getting an uncontested divorce, with names like:

These procedures save steps (and time) in the divorce process, but they're limited to couples who can meet certain requirements, such as:

  • no minor children
  • limits on the length of the marriage, and
  • limits on the type and amount of property a couple owns.

Learn more about the requirements and procedures for uncontested divorce in your state.

Can couples with children or substantial assets get an uncontested divorce?

The fewer complications you have in your divorce, the easier it will be to work out a settlement agreement. So the best candidates for uncontested divorce are spouses who:

  • don't have children
  • don't have assets that could be complicated to divide, like a house, business, or retirement accounts,
  • own few other assets, and
  • can both support themselves.

However, an uncontested divorce isn't out of reach just because you have kids or substantial assets—as long as you can communicate well, cooperate, and negotiate all the details. Still, the more complicated your situation is, the more likely it is that you will need some kind of professional help to reach a comprehensive and fair settlement. (More below on where to get that help.)

When is uncontested divorce an unrealistic option?

You probably won't be a good candidate for an uncontested divorce if you and your spouse have a high level of conflict or a major imbalance in power—financial or emotional. This is especially true if you've experienced or are afraid of domestic violence.

Even with the help of a mediator, both you and your spouse must be willing to compromise. And you need a relatively level playing field to negotiate a fair settlement agreement. That's not possible if one spouse is abusive, bullying, or simply willing and able to hide assets.

How long will it take to get an uncontested divorce?

An uncontested divorce is typically a much quicker process than a traditional, contested divorce. After you've filed your initial paperwork, most states have waiting periods before you can get your final divorce—usually about one to three months.

Beyond any waiting period, the actual amount of time it will take to get your uncontested divorce will depend mostly on whether you've submitted all of the required paperwork, whether you'll need to attend a court hearing (which isn't required for uncontested divorces in many states), and how busy the courts are in the county where you filed for divorce. Unless you live in a state with a relatively long waiting period (like the six-month wait in California), you can usually expect to get your final divorce decree or judgment within about three or four months.

Also, you should know that a few states—like South Carolina—require a lengthy separation (sometimes a year or more) before you can file for an uncontested divorce or get your final divorce. If you live in one of those states and haven't been separated from your spouse long enough, you could face a considerable wait.

Do I need a lawyer to get an uncontested divorce?

Many couples can get an uncontested divorce without having to hire lawyers to represent them throughout the process. Still, even if you can mostly handle your own DIY divorce, it might make sense to have an attorney's help on a limited, or consulting, basis. For instance, you might want legal advice on one specific question. Or you might ask a lawyer to review your settlement agreement to make sure that you haven't inadvertently given up any of your legal rights—or simply overlooked something the agreement should address.

A warning: After reaching an agreement, some couples will try to save money by having one spouse hire an attorney to prepare the written settlement document. But a lawyer can only represent one spouse's interests—which means the other spouse could very well be at a disadvantage in this situation. If your spouse is going to have an attorney draft a settlement agreement, you should seriously consider hiring your own lawyer to review the agreement. The amount you pay for the lawyer's hourly rate could save you a lot of money down the road.

How much will an uncontested divorce cost?

The most obvious advantage of uncontested divorce is cost. That's because attorneys' fees are typically the biggest expense in divorce, and—as we've pointed out—most couples don't need an attorney to represent them throughout an uncontested divorce.

The main expense item in an uncontested divorce is the court's filing fees. Those fees vary from state to state (and sometimes from county to county), but they typically range from about $100 to over $400. In states that allow couples to file the paperwork together, spouses can split the filing fee. Also, if you can't afford the filing fees, you might be able to get a waiver if you apply for one—and you qualify based on your income and assets.

You might have additional expenses if you've used a consulting lawyer or other expert help (more on that below). But even adding in the cost of divorce mediation, an uncontested divorce will almost always be considerably less expensive that a contested divorce.

What if one of us changes our mind about our settlement agreement?

It doesn't happen often, but spouses who've signed a settlement agreement might later change their minds about one or more provisions in the agreement. A signed agreement is a legally binding contract, and attempting to back out of it could potentially be considered an "anticipatory" breach of contract.

Practically speaking, however, if you or your spouse no longer agrees to everything in your divorce settlement agreement, the court will simply treat your case as a contested divorce. And you'll almost certainly need to speak with a lawyer to find out how to proceed.

How can I get help with an uncontested divorce?

Along with the option of getting assistance from a lawyer (as we've discussed above), other resources are available to help with the uncontested divorce process, including:

  • Mediators and other professionals. Divorce mediation can help when you want the advantages of filing for an uncontested divorce but are having trouble agreeing with your spouse about all the issues. Most mediators will prepare a written document that reflects any agreements you reached during the process. With or without mediation, you might also get help from experts like appraisers and tax experts to understand the consequences of potential settlement provisions.
  • Online divorce. If the process of tracking down and filling out the divorce paperwork is daunting, you may use an online divorce service that will provide you with the completed forms for your state—typically including a settlement agreement, based on your answers to a questionnaire. Some of these services will also take care of filing the documents with the court (for an extra fee).