HOW TO GET AN UNCONTESTED DIVORCE
Well, hello; thanks for stopping by!
In the realm of family law, there are many different ways for divorces to proceed, and there are many different ways that people handle this process.
The easiest, and in my opinion best, way of dealing with a divorce is for both parties to agree on everything and have an attorney (or two) help them with the process. This is what we call an uncontested divorce. If you start arguing over things and disagree about who gets what, or you start arguing over when the kids should be with whom…then you are moving into the realm of a contested divorce.
Allow me to explain:
Everyone knows how much stress a divorce can bring to a family. In chapter 452 of the Missouri Statute covering domestic relations, there are over one hundred documents explaining every facet of the Dissolution of Marriage process – this is sticky stuff. It’s an unfortunate truth that most people get caught up in piles of paperwork and spend months going back and forth with the opposing party, desperate for a fair Judgment. However, using a loophole in the process that can help smooth things over – the uncontested divorce.
Now, if you search through the aforementioned chapter 452, you’ll find the word uncontested only once, and it’s in the context of child custody.
“But Justin! How could you get my hopes up about something that’s not even mentioned in Missouri law?”
Well, an uncontested divorce isn’t an official procedure, but there are a couple different ways by which you can streamline the divorce process by means of ensuring that the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage goes uncontested. Hence, uncontested divorce.
Okay, so let’s get into it.
The first way to get an uncontested divorce is by getting along really well with the person you are divorcing. That may seem counter intuitive, but if you can put your differences aside during the divorce proceedings, you could save yourself a lot of money and avoid some major headaches. Essentially, both parties fill out the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage together, and if everything remains uncontested, a court date should be set within a few months, a Judgement reached, and that’s all she (or he) wrote.
The other way is for one party to file for a divorce and for the other party to never respond. In this situation, the Respondent is considered to be “in default” and cannot file any other motions. While this also leads to an uncontested divorce, it allows the responding party to get rid of your Judgment within 12 months of the judgment being final; so it’s generally a less permanent solution. Further, the judge can also give the respondent more time to respond than just 30 days; if they fail to respond and just show up in court, the judge may just let them be in the case EVEN THOUGH they are technically in default. So, while you could just win if they don’t respond.... it is by no means a guarantee.
So, this all seems pretty simple, right? Well, even an uncontested divorce requires more than just the joint Petition; there is a whole slew of forms to fill out. (I think I’ve mentioned before how much fun our bureaucracy can be to navigate.) But, even with all of that busywork, an uncontested divorce is a much simpler process than any other divorce.
Even if you don’t necessarily agree on everything, you can still go through the uncontested process. Jackson County, Missouri, actually has a specific docket (court room) for cases that are uncontested. The reason that is so nice is because those dockets happen more often and usually let you speed up the process significantly. A contested divorce can easily take nine months, a year, or more; we are still finishing some cases that were filed in mid-2016. Let that sink in for a moment - that is a two-year-old divorce. That divorce proceeding has all of its baby teeth, is walking, and probably is speaking pretty well.
So, if you agree on most things, but you don’t quite agree on everything, have your attorney work with your soon-to-be ex-spouse or with their attorney to hammer out the details.
An uncontested divorce is probably going to run you somewhere between $2,500 and $4,500, depending on if you have a business, kids, retirement, house, etc. And even though that isn’t cheap, it is a lot less expensive than taking a contested case and paying your attorney for a couple of years while you hash things out.
While you may not get everything that you want in an uncontested divorce… you really need to ask yourself if spending an additional $6,000 to make sure you get that push lawn mower AND the weed eater is really worth it. Most of the time, compromising on getting a little less than you want is much better than paying to get what you believe you should get.
There are certainly very difficult cases that require the use of the contested process. There are cases where spending the additional money is completely justified, where the other party just won’t agree to anything reasonable. They won’t let you see your children, they want you to pay your full wage in child support, or they are just trying to destroy you and your family. Those cases do need to be contested. But, if none of that is happening, you will be much happier (in the long run) just going through the uncontested process.
I don’t want to make it sound like a contested case is wrong or bad. There are a lot of good reasons to be involved in a contested case. At the same time, I think that there are a lot of people who don’t realize that they don’t have to make things more difficult.
I’ll also say, there are definitely lawyers that will push their clients towards a contested case because that is how some lawyers make A LOT of money. My view is, I would much prefer that people get their case over with quickly and easily. If you are getting divorced, you will be so much happier when the case is finished and you are able to move on with your life. Getting divorced isn’t fun; it is a difficult and emotional process. No one really enjoys getting divorced. But, for many people, it is a huge relief when it is over.
Alright, that may have been a long read…sorry about that.
Thanks for reading!
Good luck out there.