When people call my office for the first time about a divorce, one of the first questions they are asked is whether the matter is “Contested” or “Uncontested.” Most people answer the question with assurance, but I have found over the years that a majority of folks answering the question don’t really understand what it means.
Most people, I am sure, know what those words mean in English, but they struggle with the Legalese meaning of the simple words.
Contested means, simply, that you don’t agree on what is going to happen. This could mean that you don’t agree on who will have primary custody of the children, that you don’t agree on who will get to stay in the house, or that you don’t agree on whether or not you are going to get alimony, or for how long.
Uncontested means you agree. On everything. One mistake that a lot of people make is when they think ‘uncontested’ in this sense means that the other person isn’t fighting the fact that you are going to get divorced. That both the husband and wife agree that there is going to be a divorce.
Sometimes, people think it is uncontested because they agree on a major thing, like child custody and visitation, but then we come to find out that they haven’t even thought about important things like who is going to be responsible for the $8,000.00 Visa bill, or what is going to happen to his $150,000.00 retirement account.
There are a lot of details that go into an uncontested divorce. Visitation with children is not just “every other weekend and split the holidays.” What do those terms mean? Does every other weekend mean first and third weekends of the month? Or just literally every other. And if so, what if the holiday weekend assigned to Mom, for example, comes right after one of her every other weekend weekends? Does that count as her weekend? Does she get the one afterwards, or do you recount the every other weekend from there? Does the Thanksgiving break get split in two, or does one parent or another get the whole break every other year? What about three day weekends? Are they related to the regularly scheduled weekend, or are they something else altogether? There are very specific laws about child support – is what you think is fair compliant with the law?
Finances are likewise complicated. It is one thing to say “we are going to sell the house and split the proceeds” and it is quite another to decide who is going to choose the agent, and who is responsible for paying for whatever repairs need to be made to get the house in sellable condition or the taxes in the time before it sells. Deadlines are sometimes a good idea, as well as specifying what kids of offers have to be taken and which can be rejected.
Retirement accounts are also confusing, especially if part of it was earned or saved before the parties got married. How should you divide that up? Is it related to the equity in the house?
Even ‘things’ can be tricky, as anyone who has ever tried to split up a DVD collection can tell you. His car is newer and nicer, but hers is paid off. Does that matter? How do you balance that? Do you split up the dishes, leaving neither one of you with enough soup bowls to have a dinner party? Or does one person get all of them, and then give money to the other to restock a new kitchen?
Most of these questions are personal and not legal, but there are ‘standard’ outcomes and ideas which have been proven both successful and unsuccessful in similar situations. In order to bounce your ideas off of someone experienced, and in order to make sure you are addressing everything that needs to be addressed, you are likely better off asking an experienced family law attorney.
This article was written by a lawyer, but should not be considered legal advice in any way, shape, or form. It is written for general (and generally vague) informational purposes only. In order to properly evaluate your case, a lawyer must examine all the facts and circumstances that are particular and personal to your situation. I have not done that here.