Contested Vs. Uncontested Divorce
A contested divorce is any divorce that has a defendant who does not agree to the terms of the plaintiff’s complaint. Maryland divorce law changed October 1, 2023 and removed several grounds couples have used to get a divorce in the past such as adultery and desertion. The new law settles on grounds of mutual consent, six (6) month separation and irreconcilable differences.
Some people qualify for what’s called an uncontested divorce, or a mutual consent divorce, where all they need to do is submit an agreement that they agreed on all the terms of the distribution of property (the marital home, pensions, cars, furniture, pets, etc.) and custody issues (if there are any).
To contest a divorce means that they are fighting the custody request of the other party or they are fighting for their share of any marital assets. Sometimes, they’re fighting over the grounds for divorce.
The ground of irreconcilable differences already used in other states appears to be a contested ground.
Even after a six (6)-month separation, the parties might still be fighting over property issues or custody. Those would still be contested divorces, even though they’ve established as having been separated for six (6) months, meaning there’s no dispute about that as a ground for divorce.
What Are Some Of The Impacts That A Contested Divorce Will Have On The Process?
It takes a lot longer to get a contested divorce. If you get a mutual consent divorce, you’re talking about six weeks to two months, but if you’re getting a contested divorce with custody and property issues, then you’re talking about a good three to four months just to get to the custody trial. The evaluation of the custody alone can take a long time before trial. They evaluate the parents and the kids, there are attorneys appointed to represent the kids, and any number of things (drug testing, for example) can be ordered just for the custody part of the case. There might be negotiations and mediations back and forth.
In Montgomery County, they sometimes bifurcate the divorce trial and the custody trial, so you’re talking about another four or five months to get to your divorce trial. The reason they do that is because the custody cases are very emotionally draining and often contemptuous as people fight over the initial custody order, which can set the tone for child support and for who controls the marital home, in some cases. Those things are emotionally challenging but important steps that take a lot longer when they’re contested.
Depending on the size of the marital estate, the marital property, each parent might face questions about how they can maintain the marital home, whether there’s any ability for one party to keep the home, or what the value of the property is. During the divorce trial (and this goes for custody also), if one parent is self-employed or owns a business, that business would have to determine the person’s income, which must be calculated for the purposes of child support and, potentially, for alimony. If one party is the business owner, then that business could be a marital asset that would have to be split, and that would be done during that second stage of the case after the custody trial. Complicated cases might require appraisals of the property and of the business. Let’s say you have a construction company. You’ll need estimates of what the business property is worth, plus the vehicles, equipment, and trusts involved. So, it gets complicated when you have a contested divorce.
Even in cases where there’s an agreement, some of those agreements take a long time to hash out because of the details in a case. There’s no way to gauge some of the issues that might arise, and sometimes, the issues arise after filing. People take different actions out of fear that they’re going to lose something. In some cases, they take the kids to a different location and try to hide—that’s rare, but it does happen in these kinds of cases. Any of those developments make the cases much longer and more serious. All this is not to say that an uncontested divorce can’t still be volatile. The difference is only that the parties realize they don’t have any advantage in getting into a big legal fight.