Uncontested Divorce: Do I Have To Go to Court?

Needing to go to court for an uncontested divorce depends on your state and unique situation. Generally, if both sides agree on significant issues and are amicable, you can avoid the full court process.

An uncontested divorce (sometimes called a dissolution or dissolution action) means you and your spouse agree on all the divorce terms. These may include:

  • Child custody
  • Parenting time
  • Child support
  • Spousal support (alimony)
  • Division of marital property

If you agree on these topics, you may be able to avoid a lengthy and expensive court process. For example, Pennsylvania divorce laws allow parties in a "mutual consent" or no-fault divorce to demonstrate their consent through court filings and avoid all court appearances in some circumstances.

Situations Where You Need To Go To Court

Keep in mind that even in an uncontested divorce, the court may require testimony under oath that the parties agree to the terms. This may vary state by state.

In Ohio, for example, a dissolution action requires:

  • Both parties' agreement to all terms
  • Both parties appear and testify under oath

An uncontested divorce in Ohio is an early resolution of a divorce case where the parties have settled on all terms. At least one party must appear with at least one witness to say the parties are incompatible (or support other grounds).

This is one example of a state law that still requires some time in court for an uncontested divorce.

The Uncontested Divorce Process

The divorce process in an uncontested divorce differs slightly from a contested divorce. You must first fill out a divorce settlement agreement in an uncontested divorce. This settlement agreement outlines the specifics of your agreement with your spouse.

After the document is completed you will still need to file divorce papers such as a complaint and follow court procedures regarding service or waiver of service. There may still be a hearing on the agreement before the judge. In most cases, judges will ask some basic questions, like:

  • Whether you fully understand the terms of the agreement
  • Whether you made a full disclosure of all assets and liabilities
  • Whether you find that the agreement is in the best interest of your children
  • Whether you chose to sign the agreement voluntarily

The judge will usually approve the agreement unless they believe it's fundamentally unfair to one party.

Some state laws set a certain waiting period before a divorce becomes final. Some states make the divorce final as soon as the court files the final decree of divorce with the clerk of courts. Often this is the same day as the hearing.

Research your state's laws to know when your divorce will be finalized.

Drafting the Settlement Agreement

Drafting a settlement agreement can be time-consuming and complicated. You and your soon-to-be-ex spouse must agree on everything before you take your agreement to the judge. The process may be more straightforward if you don't have significant assets or if you don't have children.

Many courts provide divorce forms for parties who choose to self-represent. Your state's government website may have standardized dissolution and divorce forms. The local courts must accept these forms for filing.

Depending on your situation, it may be worth it to retain a divorce lawyer who will help you with the drafting. The lawyer can also review the agreement you drafted to ensure you protect your rights.

Many people choose to retain a lawyer solely for this part of the process. This allows them to ensure they aren't giving away their rights while keeping the divorce cost low.

Why Choose Uncontested Divorce?

There are several reasons why many think an uncontested divorce is the better route to finalize a dissolution of marriage. Some of these reasons are explained below.

Uncontested Divorce Is Cheaper

Because it takes less time and most of the work is done outside the court, the costs of uncontested divorces can be significantly cheaper. Although an attorney is recommended, the faster procedure will save you money in attorney fees and filing fees.

It Generally Takes Less Time

An uncontested divorce usually takes less time because there is no need for you or your spouse to go to court. The matter will not get drawn out because no one is arguing the case or filing competing motions.

If you have minor children and the court permits it, finalizing the divorce this way may be ideal. This is because your children wouldn't have to see the tension in the time-consuming and costly custody and child support proceedings.

The Outcome Is More Predictable

A court hearing is unnecessary since you and your spouse agree on the divorce terms. The judge will review the legal documents and approve your divorce if the terms of the divorce are lawful and fair. This means there is very little room for surprises regarding what your final divorce will look like. You, and not a judge, will determine the outcome of your divorce.

Information Is Kept Out of the Public Records

Most of the divorce paperwork filled during a divorce proceeding is public record unless sealed. However, in uncontested divorce cases, the documents you file with the court clerk only disclose a little information. Therefore, less private information goes into the public record.

Do You Need a Lawyer for an Uncontested Divorce?

You are not legally required to have a lawyer in a contested or uncontested divorce. In uncontested divorces, you may be able to handle the case without a lawyer's help. However, it is always best to have a lawyer go through your agreement to ensure your rights are protected.

It may also make sense to hire a mediator to help you and your spouse reach an agreed divorce. A mediator is a trained professional that helps spouses explore their options and reach a mutual settlement. The parties' settlement agreement can be provided to the parties or their attorneys to file with the divorce complaint.

Cost-Effective Legal Help

As stated above, many family courts have standardized forms for self-representation. Some attorneys also provide limited-scope representation or unbundled services at a lesser cost.

In a dissolution or uncontested divorce, you may hire an attorney to draft the agreement and file with the courts. Then their part is finished, and you would appear in court and represent yourself in front of the judge at any final hearing.

Uncontested Divorce for People With Children Or Substantial Assets

It is still possible to go through an uncontested divorce, even though children and substantial assets may be involved. In such cases, however, it might be best to hire a family law attorney or a mediator to ensure both parties negotiate an agreement until they get a fair deal. Attorneys and mediators can help parties understand the impact of laws on retirement assets and other complicated marital property issues. They can also explain common ways couples can address custody or work through parenting plan concerns.

Domestic Violence

When domestic violence has been a part of a marital relationship, this presents special concerns related to divorce. A survivor of domestic abuse is usually at greatest risk at the time they decide to leave the abusive relationship. These dangers strongly suggest that the victim consider getting legal advice for reasons of safety and fairness. An experienced family law attorney can help a domestic violence victim file for a protection order, request financial support and engage in safety planning prior to filing for divorce and throughout the divorce process.

Additional Resources

Seek Legal Help in Your Divorce Case: Speak to an Attorney

Divorces can be emotionally, financially, and physically exhausting. If you are planning to go through a divorce, you need to know the laws and procedures followed in your state.

A good option to protect yourself and your finances may be to speak to an experienced divorce attorney near you. They can provide legal advice on divorce forms and court proceedings to help the process move smoothly and quickly.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • You may not need an attorney for a simple divorce with uncontested issues
  • Legal advice is critical to protect your interests in a contested divorce
  • Divorce lawyers can help secure fair custody/visitation, support, and property division

An attorney is a skilled advocate during negotiations and court proceedings. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

Find a local attorney

Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Divorce is an ideal time to review your beneficiary designations on life insurance, bank accounts, and retirement accounts. You need to change your estate planning forms to reflect any new choices about your personal representative and beneficiaries. You can change your power of attorney if you named your ex-spouse as your agent. Also, change your health care directive to remove them from making your health care decisions.

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