What Is the Difference Between a Contested and Uncontested Divorce, and How Does It Affect the Divorce Process?

The primary difference between an uncontested divorce and a contested divorce is cooperation between the parties. Another significant difference is the time it takes to obtain each type of divorce in North Carolina. Our North Carolina family law attorneys assist clients with contested and uncontested divorces. This guide to uncontested and contested divorces helps you know what to expect during the divorce process. 

Definition of Divorce in North Carolina

A divorce is the legal process of dissolving a marriage. North Carolina uses the term “absolute divorce” to describe the process. When you end a marriage legally, you can remarry. Your spouse has no right to your estate when you die unless you include them in your Will.

You also do not have to consult your spouse when you make decisions regarding your life, such as where you live, work, and travel. The exception is if you want to relocate and have custody of your children. 

North Carolina is a no-fault state for divorces. The only ground for divorce is a one-year continuous separation or incurable insanity. The ground of incurable insanity requires you to be separated from your spouse for three consecutive years because of the incurable insanity.

What Is a Contested Divorce in North Carolina?

Your spouse cannot stop you from seeking a divorce in North Carolina, even if they do not want to end the marriage. However, they can dispute the terms of the divorce. When parties cannot agree on all divorce terms, we refer to the case as a contested divorce. 

Reasons for a contested divorce vary. However, contested divorces typically occur when the parties cannot agree about issues related to child custody, alimony, and property division. 

The steps in a contested divorce case in North Carolina generally include the following:

  • Filing of a complaint seeking divorce
  • Serving the other spouse with the summons and complaint
  • Waiting for the other spouse to file their response to the complaint
  • Discovery (the process of requesting documents and information from the other party)
  • Pre-trial motions and hearings
  • Settlement negotiations and/or mediation
  • Trial and judgment
  • Post-trial motions and appeal, if applicable 

When spouses cannot negotiate a divorce settlement, the judge makes a final ruling based on the evidence presented during the trial. Even if the spouses agree on all issues but one issue, the divorce is contested. 

What is an Uncontested Divorce in North Carolina?

 An uncontested divorce occurs when a spouse does not file an answer to the divorce complaint. The petitioning spouse files a motion with the court for a default divorce judgment. Spouses can also have an uncontested divorce when they agree on all issues related to the divorce, including custody, property division, and domestic support. 

The process for an uncontested divorce begins in the same way as a contested divorce. A spouse files a complaint and serves the complaint on the other spouse. If the spouse files a response, the parties negotiate a divorce agreement to present to the court. 

The petitioning spouse’s lawyer files the proposed divorce settlement agreement with the court. The court schedules a hearing. If the judge approves the settlement agreement, they issue a divorce order and incorporate the settlement agreement into the divorce decree.

Parties can agree on all issues related to a divorce. However, the courts can change the terms related to child custody and child support if the judge believes the divorce agreement is not in the best interest of the children. 

Comparison Between Contested and Uncontested Divorce

Generally, it is less costly and time-consuming when the parties agree on divorce terms. A contested divorce can cost much more in legal fees and time. Contested divorces can also cause a significant emotional toll on the parties. Fighting about divorce terms can be stressful. It can also create feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, and depression. 

With an uncontested divorce, you have more control over the decisions. You also maintain more privacy because your settlement negotiations are not part of the court record. Contested divorce typically involves complex issues that cannot be resolved during negotiations or mediation. However, some spouses might choose to fight because they want to drag out the divorce to punish their spouse, or they refuse to agree to fair terms for the divorce settlement. 

Regardless of whether your divorce is contested or uncontested, you should have legal representation. An attorney protects your legal rights and best interests. Your lawyer ensures that all filings are correct and filed on time. They also gather evidence and prepare a strategy to achieve the best possible outcome in your divorce case. 

Even if you and your spouse are amicable now, that could change during the divorce process. Having an attorney represent you from the beginning of the case means you are not caught off guard if your spouse suddenly decides they want to contest the divorce terms. 

Contact Our North Carolina Family Law Attorneys for More Information 

Sound legal advice can significantly improve your chance of obtaining the outcome you desire in your divorce action, regardless of whether your divorce is contested or uncontested. Contact our law firm to schedule an initial consultation with an experienced North Carolina family law attorney to learn more about your legal rights and how we can help you with your divorce case.