Keeping It Civil: When To Choose An Uncontested Divorce
We’ve all heard the horror stories; a normally rational couple mutually agrees to separate, hires lawyer, and suddenly WWIII breaks out over who owns the non-working ‘80s-era microwave. Often this stems from a win/lose approach to divorce, fueled by a desire to be the victor.
It doesn’t have to be like this; with an “uncontested” divorce, it is possible to maintain a degree of privacy and avoid the attorney fees associated with a lengthy legal battle. An uncontested divorce isn’t right for everyone, but if you and your spouse can discuss talk about dividing property calmly and come to an understanding, then you should consider it.
Uncontested divorces require collaboration and agreement on a number of things, including property, debt, childcare, and future support.
The first and most obvious advantage to an uncontested divorce is the money it saves. With little or no attorney time required, you will not face steep legal fees. The cost of filing papers with the court is minimal, and if you face financial hardship, you may be able to get even these fees waived.
Uncontested divorces also take less time than contested ones. And you and your spouse dictate the pace, as opposed to the court or lawyers doing so. You will be able to discuss the division of assets in your own time and will only need to involve the court once this is complete.
Choosing an uncontested divorce could also allow you to maintain a sense of dignity and cooperation with your former partner, which may help to set the stage for a civil post-divorce relationship. This will be particularly important if you are left co-parenting, or have adult children whose weddings, graduations, etc., you will both want to join.
While not hiring a lawyer will save you money, it also means you won’t benefit from their advice and counsel. Lawyers who regularly handle divorces know the ropes, know how the court systems work, and what topics need to be addressed. You won’t have an advocate who is not emotionally invested in the separation, and therefore likely thinking more clearly at that moment in time.
If you feel that your spouse has or will take advantage of you, then this third-party advocate becomes even more important; he or she will fight for your rights in a way you may feel unable. (If there has been any degree of abuse in the relationship, physical or emotional, an advocate is crucial, and an uncontested divorce is not for you.)
An uncontested divorce may leave you without crucial knowledge. If you and your spouse have complicated finances, such as extensive student debt, multiple retirement accounts, large stock market investments, etc., you may need the help of a lawyer familiar with untangling the collective pot. For example, you may not know that student debt is typically the sole responsibility of the student, or that if you don’t lay out a plan for splitting retirement benefits now, that you may not be able to later.
Getting it Done
If you’ve properly weighed the pros and cons of an uncontested divorce and think it’s for you, you can find the resources you need on your state court’s website. Depending on your state, you may have online access to all of the paperwork and checklists.
You will likely thank yourself later for making this tough time as easy and cost-effective for your family as possible, but shouldn’t do so at the cost of doing it correctly; the ramifications of your decisions may last long into the future.
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