Many people that call my law firm or are searching for information online have the same question - what is the difference between an Agreed and a Contested divorce action?
As a starting point, a typical "Agreed" divorce is one in which both spouses either want or are willing to agree to the divorce itself, have discussed and agreed upon a division of all assets and debts and if children are involved, they agree upon a co-parenting schedule. On the other hand, a "Contested" divorce action arises under many different scenarios. A Contested action simply means that one spouse is seeking a divorce from the Court but no predetermined agreement has been reached. Unless the spouses can agree on every single issue, a Contested divorce may be necessary. For example, a Contested divorce may arise under the following circumstances:
• One spouse cannot be located
• The parties may agree on how to divide assets and debts but not on co-parenting, or vice versa
• One spouse does not want a divorce
• The spouses cannot come to a resolution on any one single issue, such as how to divide retirement or what to do with the marital home
• One spouse is nonresponsive and refuses to discuss settlement or refuses to sign the required paperwork for an Agreed divorce
A Contested divorce is initiated by the filing of a Complaint and possibly a Proposed Parenting Plan. The Defendant then has thirty days to file an Answer and/or hire a lawyer. Once the Answer is filed, the attorneys may engage in negotiation or exchange of discovery. In a Contested action, if no settlement can be reached outside of Court, mediation is required. Mediation is an informal settlement conference where a neutral party (the mediator) facilitates settlement between the parties. If no agreement is reached, the parties will proceed with a trial. At trial, the Judge will decide upon any and all issues that the parties cannot agree upon, from the co-parenting schedule, to which party gets what furniture, to how debts will be paid.
A typical Agreed divorce only involves one lawyer, but that lawyer only represents one spouse, not both. If the other spouse desires legal advice, they must seek out their own representation. Once both spouses have signed the necessary paperwork, a Final Hearing is held where the Court declares the parties divorced.
If you have further questions, feel free to give us a call for a free phone consultation at (865) 566-0125.