I think it’s safe to say generally that if you and your spouse have a dispute, whether it is who gets how much of the marital home’s equity or who should pay what in maintenance or child support, or any number of other reasons you feel distribution of your marital estate is unfair or inequitable and you are hoping for a Judge to ultimately make the decision for you, your matter is contested.
A non-exhaustive list of disputed issues include:
- Marital equity distribution
- Marital bank account allocation
- Marital debt allocation
- Separate property determination
- Alimony (known as “Maintenance” in Colorado)
- Parenting time
- Child support
Many of these cases settle part or most the way through the divorce proceedings, meaning that they’re uncontested divorces. This is typically after both parties become tired of the back and forth or because of a good mediator and good attorneys who remind you that, in settlement, you have control of the outcome. Although everyone loses as well as gains in a mediated outcome, it is far better than a stranger in a black robe sitting many feet above you making life-changing decisions for you and your spouse (and children) after only hearing a couple hours of testimony.
This is something us attorneys take for granted. We often wish our cases were all this simple for our clients’ sake, but we also don’t take time to realize statistically how many divorces are contested versus uncontested. I think these numbers are important to share because they show that you are not alone, and you have a future to consider.
How Many Divorces Are Uncontested?
According to the National Center for Disease Control, between 2000 and 2019, there were approximately 852,173 divorces. Note that these numbers exclude California, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Mexico, Indiana, Louisiana, Georgia, and Oklahoma.
So why aren’t the Courts completed swamped with divorce cases and trials? Approximately 95% of divorces are uncontested and don’t require final hearings or interim status conferences or the like. In other words, 95% of divorces are simply two people quickly (or not so quickly) coming together, agreeing to certain distributions of assets, parenting time schedules, and other considerations important to them, and filing a request for divorce together. Once the 91-day waiting period is up, the Court gives the agreement the thumbs-up and off the ex-spouses go into their respective futures.
Should I Aim For An Uncontested Divorce?
Yes. Based on my experience as a divorce attorney, I recommend that you try to work it out.
No, it isn’t easy, but neither is spending thousands on legal fees just to end up at the same (or a similar) place. Generally, judges will issue a court order distribution close to what was being negotiated anyways. There are absolutely times legal analysis and litigation are necessary, such as allocation of a marital business or arguing what portion of a marital home is actually separate property, but you can’t truly know what is worth fighting for until you sit down with your equal and walk through both the issues and non-issues.
What Is the Benefit Of An Uncontested Divorce?
If you’re considering a contested divorce, bear in mind the old adage: “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
In the case of a divorce, your emotional attachments may make it difficult for you to employ foresight. Often divorcing people are caught up in the excitement or concerns of the moment. If unregulated by a more disconnected attorney, many people will act only to cure the immediate issues without regard for the future. By attacking without proper planning (even if you’re attacking on issues that may warrant recourse), you are setting the stage for a case where you and your spouse will continue a spite that divided you in the first place. This is especially important when there are children involved, because a parent will inevitably wish to change parenting time or child support in the future. This will increase the likelihood that you or your ex-spouse will want to continue litigating, spending thousands on legal fees that could go toward your new homes or partners; or worse yet, your children’s education and future.
Instead, by attempting to come together now, you are joining the vast majority of divorcees and ensuring an ability to cooperate and collaborate as needed in the future.
How Do I Start An Uncontested Divorce
It may be daunting at first, but that is simply because there are so many things to consider. Just know though that many of the documents, rules, and issues court forms and websites may raise are typical because they concern contested divorces. If you both agree to everything and simply wish to go your separate ways, do not stress!
Colorado tries to make the process easy for people who are not represented by an attorney (pro se persons). If you go here: https://www.courts.state.co.us/Self_Help/divorce/, Colorado has premade templates, instructions, and general guidance available to use. So long as you follow the instructions within the family law documents section, fill out the appropriate forms, and take the listed steps, the process should be relatively painless.
Questions? Contact your district’s Pro Se Help Resource Center. These individuals, also known as Sherlocks, are able to provide general guidance about next steps, documents to complete, deadlines to expect, and otherwise. While they cannot provide legal advice, they are still extremely helpful for your case and will help you complete the process.
For example, information on Denver’s Self Help Resource Center can be found here: https://www.courts.state.co.us/Courts/District/Custom.cfm?District_ID=2&Page_ID=592
For legal advice, however, you will need to reach out to one of the many attorneys throughout Colorado and either consult or retain them for their help. Many are even willing to operate as a sort of mediator and help ensure all documents are filled out properly and all necessary steps are being taken.
What If You Can’t Come Together?
If you can’t, don’t fret. That happens. Just look into your rights and obligations to ensure you are protected if need be. Hopefully, you will both be able to come together in the future on the terms of your separation.
If you truly cannot come together, speaking with an attorney about your case with the mindset of how to best prepare for the future will benefit you and your family.
Best of luck!