A California “contested divorce” means the spouses cannot agree on all the issues, such as child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support (alimony), property division, how to divide assets and debts, or payment of lawyer fees.
In many contested divorces, tempers flare, and each spouse is subjected to hateful remarks and accusations. Anyone would rarely want to go through this stress and emotional roller-coaster. Some people believe a contested divorce is a routine part of the divorce process, but it can be avoided.
In contested divorces, a family court judge will be forced to make crucial life-altering decisions after the divorce litigation, often involving your kids.
This is where reality starts to kick in, and you realize through the fog of hate that a contested divorce might not be in my best interest or my children. Due to the stress, monetary cost, and unpredictability of a contested divorce, it should be avoided. A contested divorce should be considered an option of last resort when everything else has failed.
An amicable uncontested divorce is almost always the better option. Here, spouses can find a way to negotiate and reach an agreement on the terms of their marriage dissolution.
There are different ways to reach this settlement, such as collaborative divorce and mediation. Often, litigation in the divorce process means once-loving spouses start treating each other as the enemy. When kids are caught up in the middle of a fight, it isn't easy to comprehend the long-term emotional consequences.
Thus, when you can reach a marital settlement agreement through several negotiating methods, you are not only avoiding a potentially long and ugly process but also significantly reducing costs. Our California divorce and family law lawyers will review this subject in more detail below.
Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce
There are numerous ways to get divorced in California; some methods are easier than others. All divorces require time and money, but spouses who can remain civil and reach an agreement in an uncontested divorce will often make the painful process much more manageable. On the flip side, a contested divorce:
- requires a significant amount of time, effort, and stress,
- requires attending court hearings and even a trial,
- forces a judge to make the divorce decisions,
- cost much more in lawyer fees and other costs,
- fighting over the marital home and investment property,
- fighting over bank accounts and retirement accounts,
- fighting over all the financial issues related to divorce,
- creates mental and financial stress on the entire family,
- hateful disagreements over parenting time and schedules,
- places more stress on a deteriorating relationship.
In California, especially in Hollywood, many people have read news headlines about a contested divorce that cost enormous money during a trial that lasted several weeks.
While the vast majority of people getting a divorce in California are not connected with the Hollywood crowd, the point is that all efforts should be made to avoid a contested, litigated divorce. Let's review some potential options below.
What About Child Issues in a Contested Divorce?
A California contested divorce can impact your child for many years. Some parents will attempt to alienate their kids from the other parent by constantly making negative comments about them.
Some will make false allegations of child abuse or even sexual abuse and decide to take the divorce to a trial. The main child custody issues that parents fight over include the following:
- who is the primary child custodian?
- who gets physical and legal custody?
- who makes medical or school decisions?
- whether a parent is unfit due to an addiction?
- whether a parent has a mental illness?
- whether a parent should go to therapy or counseling?
Child custody decisions during divorce could take a long time because the judge might appoint a child representative. They will be responsible for investigating what is in the children's best interests in the divorce. These investigators will usually:
- meet with both parents,
- the children,
- investigating the homes of both parents,
- speak to teachers, counselors, neighbors, and other family members.
On top of the time it takes to complete these tasks, your legal fees and other related costs are substantially increased.
What is Collaborative Law and Mediation?
Once you decide to end your marriage, you should explore options for an uncontested divorce. The first option is open and honest communication with your spouse. You will need to hire a California family law attorney for legal guidance and assistance in negotiating:
- child custody,
- child support,
- child visitation,
- property division,
- spousal support,
Working through a third party will generally reduce the level of emotion and make the process much easier.
Collaborative law and mediation will give you and your spouse the chance to have more control over how the legal issues in your divorce will be resolved, as opposed to a divorce trial where a family court judge decides who gets what.
In a collaborative divorce, both spouses have their attorneys while both sides discuss the divorce and potential solutions. Likewise, the primary goal of divorce mediation is to reach a mutual agreement by working together with the assistance of a mediator who acts to facilitate a marital settlement.
The mediator, however, can't offer legal advice because they are required to remain a neutral party. After a settlement has been reached, the agreement will be written and presented to the California family court for approval. In most cases, courts will grant an uncontested divorce on the terms of your agreement.
Even in an uncontested divorce, California law requires divorcing spouses to exchange financial disclosure declarations and other documents to ensure a fair settlement.
Before a marital settlement agreement has been reached, community property issues, including waivers or reimbursements, pensions, investments, division of assets, and any business valuation, must be assessed to protect your rights.
What Are Some Helpful Tips to Avoid a Contested Divorce?
An experienced family lawyer knows that all divorces are unique and require different strategies. However, there are some common tips can help you avoid the dreaded contested divorce, such as the following:
- commit to avoiding fighting with your spouse,
- commit to act in the best interest of your kids,
- don't make hateful comments in front of the children,
- negotiate in good faith and avoid unrealistic expectations,
- attend all meetings in third-party negotiations,
- go to therapy sessions if you feel they are necessary.
Most people who approach divorce in a friendly and positive manner will typically avoid the ugly side of a contested divorce. It takes effort and patience, but both sides will benefit if you approach negotiations in humble good faith.
How Can a Family Law Attorney Help with a Contested Divorce?
In most California divorces, spouses are unfamiliar with family laws and don't know what to expect moving forward. Some believe that since their spouse had an affair, they are not at fault and should receive everything they seek because they are victims.
It does not work like that, as California is a no-fault divorce state, and all marital property is subjected to community property laws, meaning a 50/50 split.
You need experienced legal representation to tell you the family laws, how they apply to your divorce, and to protect your best interest. Most will tell you that attempting to drag out the divorce proceedings to expose the horror of your spouse is a bad idea.
The courts don't care. You will make a bad situation worse when you want everyone in Los Angeles who doesn't even know you to hear how badly your spouse treated you. Crickets.
The much better approach is to retain a family lawyer who can negotiate the terms of the divorce on your behalf in an uncontested divorce. This won't always ensure a smooth and easy divorce process, but it's better to let lawyers negotiate with each other than fight with your spouse.
Perhaps you want to have your divorce uncontested and stop fighting? In that case, you should start by speaking with a seasoned attorney who can explain the practical issues that can be negotiated.
In this manner, you will spend less time arguing over divorce issues that are not negotiable, and you will start setting plans for your future. The law firm of Furman and Zavatsky is a Los Angeles divorce and family law attorney. We provide legal representation across the state of California. We offer a free case consultation by phone or use the contact form.