Millions of Americans request a divorce each year. Some are able to obtain an amicable one, resolving their serious differences while still honoring the relationship and commitment they previously made. Others are not, often due to the financial or emotional circumstances surrounding the relationship. Even celebrities count themselves amongst this group, enduring expensive and protracted litigation. These are reported to include Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Bezos, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, Jennifer Lopez and Cris Judd, Donald Trup and Ivana Trump, Heidi Klum and Seal, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren
Many couples, however, can. In recent years, celebrities have at least appeared to enthusiastically endorse amicable separations and coparenting. These include Chris Pratt and Anna Faris, Tom Brady and Bridget Moynahan, Bradley Cooper and Irina Shayk, Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, Naomi Watts and Live Schreiber, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, Khloe Kardashian and Tristan Thompson, Jennifer Lopez and Mark Anthony, Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale, as well as the pioneers of the conscious uncoupling approach, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin.
Uncontested versus Simplified Dissolution of Marriages
In deciding how to amicably get divorced, the easiest method is an uncontested divorce. However, this is not the same as simplified divorces. An uncontested divorce, as the name implies, is one in which the spouses agree on all issues. There are no disagreements. The parties agreement is in writing and signed. A simplified divorce occurs when there are no complex issues in their case, such as property or children. They may or may not have reached agreements. But the case will still have go through the case management process, with the court overseeing the case through court dates, exchange of financial information, mediation and trial until the parties sign an agreement or a judge decides the case. These terms differ in that one refers to the lack of outstanding disagreements and the other refers to the type of disagreements in a case.
Benefits of Uncontested Dissolutions of Marriage
There are numerous benefits to proceeding with an uncontested divorce rather than a litigated or contested divorce. These are most simply described as time, money and emotional health. An uncontested divorce is decided when it’s filed. It indicates the parties have resolved the case on their own, in a way best for their family. So, rather than having court dates or check ins to monitor the process, exchange numerous private financial documents, go to mediation, prepare for trial, wait for a decision from the judge and then try to move forward after a court process that places your most personal life under a microscope, your role is over. And you’ve saved sometimes a year and half and likely $8,000 - $25,000 in attorneys fees. The court and attorneys handle the remaining paperwork and tasks in an uncontested divorce after filing, but one can move forward. So the benefits in saved time and emotional health are enormous. The only remaining tasks typically are the official divorce decree, starting support payments and property transfers.
An uncontested divorce also paves the way for a successful coparenting relationship that benefits children enormously. Parents are more likely to be a ‘united front’, to rely on each other for child care and can even use the best address between the two parents, to get their child assigned to the best school. They have sounding boards and partners. Though their romantic relationship may not have gone as envisioned, their relationship as co parents can. Each has a unique view that can benefit how the child is raised. And unlike some romantic relationships, their voices are now equal and if successful, equally heard.
Alternatives to Uncontested Dissolutions of Marriage
Sometimes parties have the desire to proceed with a divorce in an uncontested manner, but they’re not sure what’s fair because they don’t know all of the facts important to their family, such as what their future financial decisions may be or if a child’s medical condition could change. In cases such as these, parties can agree to proceed with a collaborative divorce.
Though typically more expensive than an uncontested divorce, the collaborative divorce process is one where each spouse hires an attorney who handles these types of cases, then they exchange financial documentation in an open and transparent manner. All parties, the spouses and their attorneys sit down and discuss in person, suggested distribution of assets. Then an agreement is crafted by both attorneys who present it to their clients. If everyone agrees on the terms, the parties sign the agreement and the case proceeds collaboratively.
Every attorney and every case is unique. Some advertised services offer low cost divorces, usually just forms you do yourself and cost several hundreds of dollars, after you pay the associated court fees. Setting these types of services aside since the cases are handled by the spouse not an attorney, an uncontested divorce typically costs afew thousand dollars, depending on the hourly rate of the attorney. But typically ten hours of attorney time is needed if it’s a simple case.
Litigated, contested divorces involve many more legal requirements so they cost more. And they take longer so the costs tend to continue each month for a longer period of time. Typically it takes ten hours to begin a case and begin the initial discovery exchanges. Then there are afew court check ins, as well as some correspondence about your case. Next, the attorney must prepare for mediation. So, assuming there have been no hearings or accusations that often result in motions and experts, the time expended is usually fifteen to twenty hours, depending on the complexity of the case until mediation. Mediation is usually three to four hours. Then the case proceeds to trial. For each hour in trial, attorneys are said to need one to two hours of preparation outside of trial. This is because the court requires the submission of documentation for each asset and debt, exchange of what will be used in trial and your formal proposals to the judge to resolve the case how you would like. If your trial is one day, nine hours, with preparation time, conservatively the attorney hours would be around twenty. Rounding down, that is approximately forty hours of attorney time, not including communications with you or that your attorney has with opposing counsel. If your attorney has any experience in this avenue, their fees are likely $350 - $500 per hour. Again using a conservative approach, forty hours of attorney time for an attorney billing $350 per hour is $14,000.
Steps in Uncontested Dissolution of Marriages
The first and most important step is reaching an agreement on all outstanding issues. If an account or legal issue is not addressed, the entire case can be reopened years later and the litigation could begin again. It is far better to ensure all issues are addressed in an agreement. The number of issues that need to be addressed are nearly limitless and depend on the case. They can range from retirement to airline miles, pets to golf clubs. It is best to consult with an attorney about what issues must be addressed in any individual case.
The next steps involve filing the case with the local clerk of court, sometimes notifying other parties and awaiting judicial assignment. Additional documents are then submitted and extra steps taken, but these depend on the individual cases. Once all paperwork has been submitted and approved, the case and final paperwork are sent to the judge for review and signature.
The agreement must be then executed according to its terms if not done before the case has formally ended. Some terms are affective after the case is over, some immediately. Additionally, child support or alimony must begin and some parties have items and property to exchange. But once the judge deems the parties divorced, the case is over.
Time Lines in Uncontested Dissolution
Most dissolution cases take six to eighteen months, depending upon the issues and speed of the courts. An uncontested divorce can usually be finalized within one to two months after successful submission of all paperwork.
Resources and Assistance
There are numerous options available to assist pro se litigants, or spouses without attorneys. We have a resource list and suggestions available for you.
If you do not have the time or desire to handle your own uncontested divorce, we do offer flat rate, reduced fee and payment plans for uncontested divorces. There are also discounts available for parents, to encourage spouses to reach fair agreements in a loving and respectful way. Because this approach will benefit the whole family, for years.
Family Law, Mediation and Guardian ad Litem Services for Southwest Florida Families
Law Offices of Kimberly L. Erwin, PLLC
Post Office Box 2828, Fort Myers, Florida 33902
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