What does it mean if someone contests a divorce?

Photo of attorney Melinda L. Singer

If you file for a divorce and it’s a contested divorce, it may sound like your spouse is contesting the very idea of getting divorced. As if you are petitioning the court for a divorce, your spouse is asking the court not to grant that divorce, and you have to hope that they allow you to end your marriage.

But this isn’t how it works. You’re always allowed to get a divorce, no matter what your spouse wants. The court isn’t so much granting you the divorce as helping you figure out the terms of that divorce. And it is these terms that are being contested.

Remember that the person who decides to file for divorce is known as the petitioner. They are allowed to add different requests to this divorce petition. In some cases, the other spouse will simply want to get divorced and will accept all of the conditions without dispute. But it is far more common that they will also have a list of requests of their own. When these don’t line up, it becomes a contested divorce. Solutions and compromises must be found.

Assets and children

The two biggest areas where people tend to argue about different terms are regarding financial assets and children. From a financial perspective, you and your spouse may not be able to agree on how to divide bank accounts, physical assets, investment portfolios and much more. The court has to help you figure out how to do this in accordance with state law, and they have to make a ruling so that you both know what to abide by.

The same thing happens with children. Perhaps both of you want sole custody, or perhaps you just can’t agree on exactly how to split up shared custody. Once again, the court isn’t deciding if you’re going to get divorced or not, but they’re simply deciding if you’re going to share custody and what the schedule is going to look like. They’re helping you work out the details of your divorce and your post-divorce life.

What should you do next?

A contested divorce can be more difficult and complicated than an uncontested divorce, so make sure that you understand your legal rights either way.

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