What is Uncontested Divorce?
In an uncontested divorce, both parties have come to agreement before kicking off the legal process of ending a marriage. They have worked through all of the issues in a divorce, such as child custody and visitation, division of real property, division of liabilities, division of assets and division of stocks and retirement accounts and pensions. Any couple can settle their own divorce—it does not matter if the marital estate is small or if it is large with a lot of assets or if it includes a business.
Just because a divorce starts out contested, it doesn’t mean that it has to finish that way. Often, one party will file against the other, and after the initial round of paperwork has changed hands, the parties may make a settlement among themselves, with the help of their attorneys or they may attend mediation and come to a settlement.
Settling All Issues
In an uncontested divorce, a marital settlement agreement is drafted settling all the issues. The parties then review the agreement. Each party can request changes to the agreement if needed.
Once the agreement is satisfactory to both parties, the parties sign and notarize the agreement. The agreement is then filed with the clerk of court. A copy of the marital settlement agreement is incorporated into the final judgment.
Uncontested Final Hearing
Depending on the state, both parties may have to attend the uncontested final hearing. Some states allow one of the parties to prove up the divorce—usually the petitioner. The respondent does not have to show up. If, for some reason, the petitioner cannot attend, he or she may request that the respondent attend the final hearing to prove up the divorce.
During the uncontested final hearing, the court will ask the petitioner (or respondent, if the respondent appears) his or her name, address, children’s address and other pertinent questions used to prove up the divorce. If the court agrees with the parties’ settlement agreement, the court will sign the final judgment, thereby ratifying the agreement. At this point, the final judgment is considered filed and the parties are officially divorced.
If the court requests a change in the settlement agreement (this does not happen often), the court will require the parties to make the changes in the settlement agreement. Depending on the judge and the local rules, the following may happen:
- If both parties are there, they both initial the changes and the court signs the final judgment. The parties are divorced.
- If only one party is attending, the court will dictate the requested changes. The petitioner will leave and contact the respondent (through the attorneys, if both sides have retained attorneys). The parties will then sign off on the changes. In this case, the court may or may not require the petitioner to attend a second final hearing for the uncontested divorce. Some courts will sign the documents without the parties’ presence, as the uncontested divorce was already proved up.