Monday, April 11, 2011

Uncontested Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce): An Overview

Save a bundle on legal fees if your divorce is uncontested!

What does "uncontested" mean?
A dissolution of marriage (divorce) is uncontested if both spouses agree on the division of assets and debts, child custody arrangements and payment of child or spousal support. Most divorce cases are resolved in this manner, where the terms of property division, support and custody are addressed in a written Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA), and no trial is necessary. If your case is contested, please contact an attorney or certified family law mediator to ensure your rights are protected.

There are many advantages:

  • Save a bundle on legal fees

  • Quick, efficient court processes, requiring minimal, if any, court appearances (often no court appearance is necessary)

  • The MSA becomes part of your judgment; you essential get to write your own court orders

  • You maintain control of your entire case

Types of Uncontested Divorces

Uncontested Dissolution of Marriage
This is the typical uncontested divorce case. One spouse, the "Petitioner" files the Petition; the other spouse, the "Respondent" files a Response, or an Appearance, Stipulations, and Waivers form. Both spouses must pay a court filing fee (unless a fee waiver is granted due to financial hardship). Both spouses must exchange financial disclosures with each other, and both parties must sign the Marital Settlement Agreement. All required documents can be completed very quickly, so you get your judgment back as soon as possible.

Default Case with Written Agreement
This type of divorce is similar to the Uncontested Dissolution of Marriage, above. However, in this type of uncontested divorce case, the Respondent does not file any response with the court (thereby saving the Respondent's filing fee, which varies by jurisdiction but is typically around $400). A Default may take a bit longer than the above type of case, because the Petitioner must wait until at least 30 days after the Respondent is served with the Petition before filing the Default paperwork and submitting the final judgment packet and MSA to the court. Even though the Respondent makes no appearance, he or she still must exchange financial information with the Petitioner, and must sign the Marital Settlement Agreement.

True Default Case
In a true default case, the Respondent files no documents, makes no appearance in court, and does not sign a Marital Settlement Agreement. The Petitioner must prove to the court that the Petition and financial disclosures were served on the other spouse, and must file several other forms with the court. A hearing may be necessary with this type of divorce; but you can still proceed with the dissolution of your marriage, even if your spouse is totally non-responsive.

Factors Common to All Uncontested Divorce Cases

  • The earliest you can be legally deemed an "unmarried" person is six months plus one day from the date the Petition was served on the Respondent

  • If your documents are processed and the court judgment entered before that date, you may proceed with dividing assets, changing your name, and enforcing other provisions in your MSA; however, your marital status will not change from "married" to "unmarried" until the expiration of six months plus one day, or another later date as determined by both spouses or the court