Every divorce starts with a petition, called a complaint in some states, and ends with a judgment or decree in some states. To get divorced, you need a judgment that orders the end of your marriage. The judgment includes facts about the length of your marriage, and also about money, property, and children, even if all it says is that you don’t have any.
If you do have marital property or debts, your judgment will include orders regarding how they will be divided. It will also include whether there will be spousal support. And if you have minor children, your judgment will have orders about their support and care, money, property, and children.
That’s what legal divorce is all about. But how you get from the petition to the judgment, makes all the difference in the world. It’s the difference between a fairly easy and inexpensive divorce or a contested legal battle that turns your life into a nightmare and wrecks your emotional and financial future.
The uncontested divorce is the easy path where there’s no opposition and your spouse doesn’t come to court to oppose you. This can happen in two situations, your spouse is long gone or doesn’t care and won’t come to court to oppose you. Or the two of you can work out a marital settlement agreement that handles all the issues of money, property, and children. In both of these situations. Your divorce is pretty easy and doesn’t take long.
You just have to file some paperwork to get your judgment but people go through so much worse while getting a divorce. Getting a lawyer or a divorce mediator will also help in case something happened after the divorce.
The worst thing you can do is try to settle disagreements in court, which is what most attorneys do. Then you have a contested divorce, and things can get very ugly and wreck your life. This can happen if you start your divorce by retaining an attorney. The attorney will file a petition that gets served on your spouse.
Getting served is very scary and upsetting. So your spouse will probably get an attorney who will file a response. Now your case becomes contested, complicated, ruinously expensive, and emotionally destructive. All the legal steps of a contested divorce include pre-trial motions, discovery, arguments and negotiations, mandatory custody mediation, pre-trial settlement, and conference trial.
This nightmare can drag on for years. All this is very expensive and you will end up having to agree on things between you anyway. Or let a judge make the decisions for you. It would be much better if you and your spouse agree to cooperate, even if you don’t feel like it or want to. If you don’t have any money, property debt, support, or custody issues that need to be resolved in your judgment, you can agree on a default divorce.
This is where one of you files the petition and summons and the other one fails to respond. No settlement agreement is needed in a default divorce. The other option would be to work together to create your marital settlement agreement where you decide how to handle all your issues instead of leaving it to a judge. It covers everything you can do for yourself that is so much better than anything attorney can do for you to avoid legal conflict.