Contested or Uncontested

(That is the Question)

I really don’t like the terms “contested” and “uncontested”.  Better terms are agreeable or disagreeable.  In an uncontested divorce you agree on all the issues concerning the end of your marriage or as lawyers will sometimes refer to as the “dissolution of your marriage.”  So, in an uncontested divorce, the two of you have agreed on who’s going to get the house, who will be the primary caretaker for the kids, how much child support will be, who’s going to pay the JC Penny credit card bill, and who gets to keep the flat screen TV.  And everything else in between.  In fact, if there is anything you don’t agree on, then you don’t have an uncontested divorce.  So, if you agree on everything except who gets the flat screen, guess what, you don’t have an uncontested divorce.  You have a contested, or disagreeable divorce.

            A contested divorce can be confined to one simple issue such as who is going to get the flat screen TV, but typically it’s not.  Your contested divorce may start out that way, but odds are you will end up fighting about everything.  Maybe you won’t, but don’t be surprised if you do.  Contested divorces are the ones you hear the most about.  The really ugly ones, the heartbreaking ones, usually involve kids.  The ones that tend to garner the most media attention usually involve lots of money. 

            The biggest differences between contested and uncontested divorces are time and money.  Uncontested divorces are a whole lot quicker and cost much less than a contested divorce.  In Georgia, an uncontested divorce can happen in as little as 31 days. It’s not uncommon at all for a contested divorce to last a year.    Some last two or three years, depending on how much money the parties have to fight each other.

Let’s talk about whether or not you should hire an Attorney.  Let me go ahead and say unequivocally, “YES YOU SHOULD!”   Obviously, since I am an attorney, and since I earn a living by doing uncontested divorces, I’m probably going to be a little biased. I realize that.  In fact lots of people are successfully able to navigate the complicated domestic relations laws, civil procedure laws, and myriad of Uniform Superior Court Rules. It can be done.  However, what is your piece of mind worth?  Do you really want to be sitting in bed two years later, on the eve of getting remarried, worrying whether or not prior divorce was legally sufficient?  What if it was legally sufficient, but you didn’t cover an area you needed to cover?  If you left out the indemnification clause and now the bill that he or she is supposed to pay shows up on your credit report just as you are trying to qualify for a mortgage?  I know, everyone worries about the cost.  Attorneys cost money.  Attorneys are so expensive.  I don’t have the money. I can’t afford an Attorney.  First of all, an attorney for an uncontested divorce is not that expensive.  Second, even if you can do it yourself, how long is it going to take you to get it right.  How many trips to the Courthouse or phone calls to clerk are you going to have to make in order get all the right pleadings and forms filled out correctly?  How long is each mistake going to delay your divorce?

            Have you ever completed a Parenting Plan?  What about child support worksheet?  They are not very intuitive.  I’m sure you can figure it out, but what is your piece of mind worth?  You decide.

How Much is it going to Cost?

Depending on your area and your specific circumstances, you can probably locate an attorney that will perform your uncontested divorce for as low as $500.    That’s not a lot of money.  I have even seen some attorneys who offer uncontested divorces for as little as $300.   Now, cost is a factor, but it is not the only factor.  Saving $100 isn’t worth it if what you end up with is a lot of hassle without the final result.

Contested divorce are usually not handled for a flat fee.  Most are done on an hourly basis with attorney rates anywhere between $100 and $500 per hour.  A retainer is an initial deposit that almost all attorneys require up front in order to begin the work.  The initial retainer will range between $1000 and may go as high as $10,000.  Keep in mind, these are just the upfront costs.  Once your retainer is depleted, then you will be responsible for paying the monthly costs as per the terms of your contract with your attorney.  If you fail to pay as required, the attorney will most likely withdraw from your case. 

The biggest factor in determining how much a divorce will cost is the quantity of disagreement between the spouses (how much are you going to fight).  Uncontested divorces are the cheapest, and by definition, there is no disagreement.  On the contrary, contested divorces can range from a minor disagreement (we disagree on who is responsible for paying a bill) to we disagree about everything.  I’ve even seen cases where the parties cannot agree on who is going to get the pictures from a vacation.  Each area of disagreement cause more time on the part of the attorneys, and therefore more cost for the parties.

Additionally, there are some non-legal costs of divorce, which can sometimes exceed the legal costs of divorce.  You may very well have to transfer title to property, cash in a retirement account, or pay for a moving service to help you take your things to your new home.  These types of costs have to be planned for as well.    The best thing to do is to sit down and make a list, update it as necessary, and then figure out how you’re going to pay for what. 


First of all, sanity is overrated.  So start by not worrying so much about whether you’re acting strange or seem weird.    You’re going through a divorce which is a major life event.  It’s going to take an emotional toll on you so don’t be alarmed or surpised when it does.  Just deal with it.

One of the best ways to deal with any stressful situation is to have a good support network.  Friends, family and even professionals that you can talk to and get good advice regarding what you’re doing and how you’re processing your feelings.   A lot of times, just talking with folks about how you feel will make you feel better. 

If your are facing serious depression, such as thoughts of suicide, see a counselor.  There’s nothing wrong with some professional therapy.  Think of it this way – if taking an aspiring will make your headache go away, wouldn’t you take an aspirin?  Likewise, if talking to a counselor will make your depression go away, why won’t you do it?

It’s also important to take things one day at a time.  If you stay focused on the moment, the enormity of all the things you have to do and decide doesn’t overwhelm you.  Try setting daily goals and get plenty of exercise.  Tomorrow is going to come and when it does, you’ll deal with it then.

Dealing with your prospective Ex can always cause tension.  Therefore, one thing I always tell my clients going through divorce is, take a business perspective.  You have a certain amount of interaction that you need to accomplish with this person and you only need the minimal amount of communication to get that done.  It’s just like at work, you need to order some supplies, you make a phone call, put the request in and you’re done.   You don’t start discussing with the supply store anything that happened 10 years ago, or what your neighbor said they saw.  You handle your business and that’s it.  Same with the Ex.  You call them up, communicate what you need to communicate, and be done.  That’s it.  Don’t let them bait you into an argument and don’t start an argument with them.  Just handle your business.

Attorney Ed Napier is a graduate of the United States Military Academy (BS, Systems Engineering, 1994), The Ohio State University (MBA, 1999), and Georgia State University (JD 2006).

He has handled hundreds of divorces and other family law matters and can help you through this difficult time.  He is just a phone call away - 678-383-1690.