What Is Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce in California

contested vs uncontested divorce

No one is an expert at getting divorced (regardless of whether or not it is your first time).

Did you know that a contested divorce often takes longer and is more expensive than an uncontested one? This article sheds light on contested vs. uncontested divorce, their procedures, benefits, drawbacks, and how each could impact your life.

Dive right in to decipher the complexity of divorce law in the Golden State.


Contested Divorce in California

A contested divorce in California involves a legal process where spouses cannot agree on important issues such as property division, child custody, and visitation.

Definition and Procedure

A contested divorce in California occurs when both parties cannot agree on a few aspects of terminating their marriage. This process kicks off with one spouse filing a petition with the court. Here's how it typically unfolds:

  1. The beginning phase involves a spouse initiating the adversarial divorce by formally filing a petition.

  2. Legal documents get served to the other spouse, providing notice of the impending divorce.

  3. Both parties collect and share information relevant to disputed issues like conflicting property division or disputed child custody.

  4. A hearing might occur before a judge if there’s a disagreement about temporary orders, such as spousal support or child custody.

  5. Lawyers from each side negotiate to attempt the resolution of disagreements in marriage dissolution.

  6. If the resolution isn't achievable, the contested divorce case proceeds to trial for final judgment by a judge.

Disputes and Issues Involved

A contested divorce in California often involves a myriad of disputes and disagreements. These contentious issues include child custody battles, spousal support conflicts, and asset and debt division disputes.

High-value assets or debts can significantly complicate matters, adding layers to the already challenging legal process. Furthermore, couples may be embroiled in bitter debates over how best to distribute property fairly.

Given such complexities, many couples opt for dispute resolution mechanisms like negotiation or mediation before turning to litigation as a last resort.

Duration of the Process

Contested divorces in California typically take more time to resolve due to several factors. The involvement of legal representation elongates the process because both parties need adequate time to prepare and present their cases.

The extensive court proceedings often required in a contested divorce further extend resolution times and potential delays from court fees. The mandatory six-month waiting period also applies equally to uncontested and contested divorces in California.

However, specific circumstances and complexities unique to each case can greatly affect these timelines. It's common for some contentious divorces to drag on far beyond the average span, adding stress and uncertainty for all involved parties.

Uncontested Divorce in California

In an uncontested divorce, both parties have come to an understanding of all the aspects of termination of marriage, including division of property, financial contributions towards child support, and any other issues related to the dissolution of their marriage.


An uncontested divorce in California happens when both spouses agree on all aspects of their divorce and can file a joint petition for dissolution of marriage. They have agreed on important matters like child custody, property division, and spousal support.

In contrast, a contested divorce occurs when the couple cannot agree on these issues, and some disputes need resolution. It's important to note that California is a "no-fault divorce" state, meaning proof of misconduct is not required for the divorce to be granted.

Requirements for Eligibility

Both spouses must meet certain requirements to be eligible for an uncontested divorce in California. These include:

  1. Agreeing on crucial issues: Both spouses must agree on debt division, property distribution, spousal support, and child custody.

  2. Residency criteria: At least one spouse must have lived in California for six months before filing for divorce. Additionally, they must have resided in the county where they plan to get divorced for the previous three months.

  3. Smooth and amicable nature: The mutual agreement of both parties characterizes an uncontested divorce. Such cases lead to a smoother and less contentious process than a contested divorce.

  4. Specific residency requirements: In Los Angeles County, there are particular residency conditions for obtaining an uncontested divorce. One must have lived in California for at least six months and in the county for three months before initiating the process.

Benefits and Advantages

Uncontested divorces in California offer several benefits and advantages. First, they are generally faster and less expensive than contested divorces. Since both parties have reached a mutual agreement on all terms, there is no need for lengthy court hearings or disputes over settlement issues.

You will, therefore, spend less time navigating the legal process and have fewer attorney fees.

Additionally, uncontested divorces involve less paperwork compared to contested divorces. The streamlined process of an uncontested divorce reduces the administrative burden on both parties involved.

Furthermore, opting for an amicable divorce can help maintain a more cooperative relationship between former spouses, which can be especially beneficial when children are involved.

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce: The Difference

Several key factors should be considered when considering whether to pursue a contested or uncontested divorce in California.


Contested Divorce

Uncontested Divorce

Complexity of Issues

Contested divorces are often necessary when significant disputes are present, such as alimony, child support, custody, distribution of assets, and debt division.

Uncontested divorces work best when spouses agree on all key matters, making the process more straightforward.

Time and Cost

Contested divorces often involve lengthy court battles, which are more time-consuming and costly.

Uncontested divorces are usually faster and more affordable, requiring less court intervention.

Communication and Cooperation

Contested divorces often occur when the spouses cannot communicate effectively or cooperate on resolving the issues at hand.

Uncontested divorces require effective communication and cooperation between spouses to reach an agreement.

Circumstances and Dynamics

The specific circumstances and dynamics of the couple, including any power imbalances or adversarial attitudes, can make a contested divorce more likely.

Uncontested divorces work better when spouses can maintain a harmonious and respectful attitude toward each other during the divorce proceedings.

Legal Advice

Seeking advice from a qualified family law attorney is crucial to understand all the implications and potential outcomes of a contested divorce.

Even in an uncontested divorce, consulting a family law attorney can be useful to ensure that all legal requirements are met and that both parties' rights are protected.

Remember, the decision between a contested and uncontested divorce depends largely on your unique situation and the nature of your relationship with your spouse.


In conclusion, understanding the difference between a contested vs. uncontested divorce in California is crucial for anyone going through the divorce process. While a contested divorce involves disagreements that need to be resolved by a judge, an uncontested divorce allows couples to reach agreements on their terms.

Choosing between the two depends on various factors, including the complexity of the issues and the level of cooperation between spouses. Contact Divorced by Design for free consultations.