Uncontested Divorce: The Basics

Can you and your spouse agree on how to resolve your divorce? That's an uncontested case.

In an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse reach an agreement about all of the issues in your divorce. Once you’ve reached these agreements, you don’t have to go into court and argue. Instead, you file court forms and a “marital settlement agreement” that details the agreements you’ve made about how you want to divide your property and debts, what your custody arrangements for your children will be, and whether support payments will change hands. Your settlement, and your final divorce, will have to be approved by a judge, which shouldn’t be any problem. The judge will usually approve a settlement agreement unless it’s clear that the terms are completely unfair to one person or were arranged when one person was under duress.

The Cost of an Uncontested Divorce

An uncontested divorce is the least expensive kind of divorce you can get. But even it will take a bite out of your wallet. You’ll have to figure out how to prepare and file the court papers, you’ll have to pay filing fees, and you may want to get some help from a lawyer or document preparer. You might also buy books or other materials to help you. (Your court’s website may provide free help, too—it’s worth looking, as many court websites have useful information.)

Getting Help with an Uncontested Divorce

You’ll probably be able to handle your uncontested divorce with little or no help from a lawyer, but you may want to ask a lawyer to look over your paperwork and, perhaps, to review your settlement agreement. Many couples use a counselor or a mediator to help them come to agreement on property and custody issues. And if you or your spouse has retirement benefits through work, you might need to hire an actuary to value them or a lawyer to prepare the special court order you’ll need to divide them.

Assuming you use professionals for these tasks, you should be able to get everything done for between $2,500 and $5,000, depending on where you live and how much lawyers and actuaries charge.

How Long Will an Uncontested Divorce Take?

If you and your spouse both stay on top of all the tasks you need to take care of, you should be able to finalize your divorce as soon as the waiting period (every state has one) is over. So depending on your state’s requirements, you could be finishing your divorce within a few months, or you may have everything done and just be waiting around for the date when you can file the final papers.

Excerpted from Nolo's Essential Guide to Divorce, by Emily Doskow.

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