Uncontested vs. Contested Cases
There are basically two kinds of family law cases: uncontested cases and contested cases. This is especially true in divorce proceedings. While the focus of this web page is primarily on uncontested divorces, the principles also apply across the board to non-marital family law matters, such as paternity or support cases.
In an uncontested divorce, the spouses agree on everything and do not need the court to make decisions for them about issues like the division of assets and debts, allocation of retirement plans, spousal support (alimony), child support, or the custody and visitation of children. Conversely, in a contested divorce, the parties are unable to agree and have to rely on the court to make decisions about all or most of their disputes through the process of litigation.
It can easily take up to a full year, or even much longer, for a contested divorce to work its way through the family court in California. In fact, stories of divorces taking two years or longer are not unusual, particularly in light of the massive budget cuts imposed on the Superior Court system here in California. But not every divorce or family law case has to be a long and expensive process. An uncontested case can be resolved and finalized much, much quicker.
If you and your spouse have already reached agreement, we can help you finalize your case quickly, efficiently and inexpensively. But reaching agreement is only half the battle. There is a procedure that must be followed, financial disclosures that (usually) must be completed, and documents that must be properly prepared and submitted to the court for approval. And, this all needs to be done before the other party changes his or her mind.
The benefits of an uncontested divorce are numerous. You and your spouse retain control of your lives and how your marriage ends. You decide what is equitable for both of you, from the family home and marital property to how best to parent your children. You and your spouse are better qualified to determine your plan for moving forward than some randomly assigned judge who would otherwise make orders in your case.
At the same time, uncontested divorces are much more complicated than simply just filling in the blanks – divorcing spouses need to be protected far into the future, and if there are children, you need to ensure that their well-being is safeguarded as well. Even though a divorce can proceed as an uncontested case, it is still a life-impacting experience and should be handled by an experienced and knowledgeable attorney.
Once you and your spouse have reached agreement, we believe you should move through the process quickly. At the same time, not so quickly that you overlook crucial details that are important to the divorce process and to your futures. A poorly drafted Judgment of Dissolution may cause serious problems down the road that could be difficult, if not impossible, to remedy. However, we work towards having your final documents ready to go to court within 30-60 days after we receive your intake questionnaire and professional services agreement.
In California, an uncontested attorney represents neither party, but instead is a facilitator for both parties. The attorney then prepares the Petition for Dissolution, Summons, financial disclosures, the separation agreement and a handful of other documents that must be drafted and filed at court. The spouses read, review and sign the documents, and may call the attorney with general questions (but must remember the attorney does not represent either party).
Once the Judgment is completed and fully executed by both parties, we will submit it to the court for judicial review and approval. Depending on the county in which you reside, the review and approval process can take anywhere from four to twelve weeks to complete, although there is an expedited process available for a relatively small cost that can reduce the turnaround time to less than two weeks. Also keep in mind that some counties have a year-end deadline for submission of Judgments that need to be finalized and entered by December 31 for tax and other purposes. The good news is that in most cases, you never have to set foot in the courthouse or courtroom at all.
Uncontested cases are billed at our regular hourly rates. We charge a reasonable retainer that is substantially lower than for a contested matter, and in most cases it is paid equally by both spouses (unless they have an agreement to some other allocation of the cost).
Contact us or call (925) 465-2500 or (707) 398-6008 for more information about your particular situation or to schedule an initial consultation at Sparks Family Law, Inc. with attorney Gary D. Sparks.