We often receive calls and emails from potential clients asking what the difference is between a "contested divorce" and an "uncontested divorce." The word "contested" refers to how much disagreement exists within any given divorce case in the Family Court.
In South Carolina, an "uncontested divorce" is a divorce where both spouses are in complete agreement regarding every single issue. This means that the parties fully agree on how to go about dividing their assets (their stuff) and debts (their bills), about how to handle any child custody and visitation issues for their children, about who will make child support payments and any spousal support payment, as well as how much those payments will be, etc. The spouses have typically been able to reduce their agreement to writing, whether with or without the help of a family law attorney and there are no outstanding disagreements to resolve between them.
Though uncontested divorces are wonderful when they occur, the reality is that there are usually sticking points that prevent perfect harmony, even among couples who get along reasonably well. Uncontested divorces most often occur in cases where couples have not been married for very long. Shorter marriages tend to make agreements easier, because (a) finances may have been kept separate for the most part, (b) few marital assets and debts have been accumulated, and (c) there may not be any children to fight over.
Because uncontested divorces only exist in cases of total agreement, most of the cases in Family Court are considered "contested divorces", those in which there are issues that remain in controversy (the spouses disagree about how to resolve them). To put it a different way, even a seemingly minor issue can prevent a divorce from being "uncontested", as every single issue must be ironed out and agreed upon before an agreement is complete and able to be approved by the court.
While it is easy to get caught up in the desire to have an uncontested divorce, the most important thing is to make sure that your divorce is handled properly. There is absolutely nothing wrong with spending the necessary time to make sure all of the issues are addressed and, more importantly, that your interests are protected. In South Carolina, you only get one opportunity to do it right, and you need to fully understand all of the aspects of any divorce agreement document and to be sure you are comfortable with it before you sign it or before you ask the Court to have it approved as a Final Order of the Family Court.
Also, it's important to remember, just because your case starts as a "contested divorce" does not automatically mean you're destined for a long and expensive trial to get a resolution. The overwhelming majority of contested divorces in South Carolina are settled outside of court and a solution is eventually hammered out, whether by negotiations between the spouses' attorneys or with the help of an experienced family court mediator. Negotiating settlements, after your attorneys have assisted you in discovering what your rights are in your case, can save thousands of dollars and also ensure that you're not taken advantage of by your former spouse.
The Stevens Firm, P.A. - Family Law Center has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over two decades, handling all matters of family law, such as child custody, child support, and divorce. We are well-equipped to handle all divorce and family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact us at (864) 598-9172 to schedule an initial consultation today.