When one party to a marriage does not want a divorce, objects to the grounds for divorce or disagrees with a proposed divorce settlement, the divorce becomes known as a contested divorce. A contested divorce simply means that a judge or other form of mediator is needed to help settle remaining disputes. In the case of one spouse refusing to grant a divorce, a contested divorce means a judge must determine if enough grounds exist to grant a judgment of divorce anyway.
How a Divorce Is Contested
Although state laws and requirements vary, typically a divorce is contested when one spouse refuses to sign a divorce settlement agreement. For example, a spouse can file a petition for divorce through an attorney and then present the other party with a settlement agreement or proposal. Negotiations might continue for several days, weeks or even months to reach an equitable arrangement. If no agreement can be reached, or if one spouse refuses to participate in negotiations, the filing attorney can proceed with petitioning the court for contested divorce proceedings.
The Next Steps
Depending on state law specifics, the next step in a contested divorce is ensuring both parties are duly notified of future proceedings. For example, when a contested divorce petition is filed, most courts require the filing attorney to certify proper notice to the defendant and his attorney. Between such notice and the actual divorce hearing, several steps are required. Typically, both spouses must disclose to the court certain financial records, evidence required to prove grounds for a divorce, records of any dependent children and any necessary pretrial counselling or classes required.
Variations by State
Each state has laws governing divorce proceedings, contested or not. New York State, for example, requires residents seeking a contested divorce to file a request for judicial intervention, followed by a statement of net worth and attendance at a preliminary conference including both parties and their respective attorneys. In Delaware, when a spouse files a petition for divorce, the other spouse must file an official answer with the court. If, in the official response, the defendant spouse challenges anything in the petition, contested divorce hearings begin automatically.
The Ultimate Resolution
Although each state requires different steps from the time a spouse challenges a divorce until a resolution is reached, all contested divorces end with a court hearing in front of a judge. In some states, mediation and preliminary conferences seek to help couples reach an agreement prior to going before a judge for an official divorce trial. Even in such circumstances, a judge must review any pretrial agreements before signing off on it, in compliance with state law. When a mediated agreement is unreachable, the judge will, upon presentation of evidence and each spouse's case, ultimately decide a final resolution.