Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce: How to Choose The Right Approach

You may think, in the course of a contemplating a divorce, that it’s going to be far easier to have an uncontested divorce. A client comes into my office, and they want an uncontested divorce. I ask them, “Are they going to agree?”. Most of the time, they aren’t sure if there will be agreement or not.

The Process of Preparing and Signing Uncontested Divorce Papers

I explain the entire process of preparing the papers and their review. If they give us the go ahead, there spouse can sign the documents at our office or can take it somewhere else to have it notarized. We can mail it to them, they can email it to them, we can send it to a lawyer they are working with, or they can take it to them. It just must be returned to us with notarized signatures and the necessary documents signed.

What to Do If Your Spouse Won’t Sign the Divorce Papers

“How long do they have to sign the papers?”

“As long as they want, because it’s an uncontested set of papers.”

“What if they don’t sign?”

“If they don’t sign, then you are no closer to getting divorced. At that point, you can come up with terms they may agree on, or you can file contested.”

“Does the money I pay for these papers roll over to the contested papers?”

“No, it’s an entirely separate process. When it’s contested, we file the papers, they are served and then have thirty days to either respond, agree to a settlement, or have a default entered against them.”

“Does it cost more to file contested?”

“Yes, the retainer will cost more, but if we resolve it quickly it may not cost much more.”

“I’ll file uncontested.”

When clients say this, I go into the explanation more fully, the uncontested papers aren’t filed until both parties’ sign. You aren’t going to file uncontested papers until all the terms are agreed upon and all the papers have been signed.Uncontested divorce can be a good option for both people

In the last week alone, I’ve seen two uncontested clients tell me the papers we prepared were rejected. In one case, we filed contested with a lot of anxiety ensuing due to the cost. In the other, we ended up revising the papers several times to get them signed.

A client today comes in. I ask how I can help him and he says, “I had uncontested papers prepared and now my wife won’t sign them.”

“Why won’t she sign them?”

“She doesn’t want the divorce.”

In this case, there are no other options, if he wants to get divorced, he’s going to have to file a contested divorce.

I suggested we file contested to the client and he didn’t respond. Then I said, “Is there anything you can offer to get her to agree to the papers?”. He didn’t want to do that either. He said he was going to think about it after I told him the cost and gave him the details of the process.

Making the Right Decision: Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce

Filing a divorce can be a difficult decision. It seems easier to have the papers prepared and signed, except there is a crucial component. Everyone must agree on all the terms. This causes the simple uncontested divorce to turn complicated with the blink of an eye.

My advice, find out if your spouse is willing to sign the divorce papers and if they will agree to your terms before you have uncontested papers prepared. It’s far more financially sound to spend the money on a contested divorce unless you are 100% sure they will agree. I know it’s not your first choice, but often, once the papers are filed, then your spouse sees the inevitability and we can resolve it more easily.



A respected Huntsville family law attorney with more than 20 years’ experience, Leigh Daniel is known for her positive attitude and her skills in the courtroom. She prides herself in the care and compassion that she and her team put into every case. Her goal is to instill a sense of confidence in her clients so they know success is on the horizon. As an author, inspirational speaker, coach, and founder of Project Positive Change, Leigh stays focused on the positive impact she can make on every client’s case.