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Different types of divorce: contest vs. uncontested

Different Types of Divorce: Uncontested vs. Contested

August 9, 2018 SuAnne Bryant

Going through a divorce is not just emotionally draining, but can be financially draining as well.

Different types of divorces have different common price ranges, but there are ways to keep the overall cost down.

The biggest factor in the cost of a divorce is whether it is contested or uncontested. However, even within contested divorces there are several different avenues clients can take.

Uncontested Divorce

In an uncontested divorce, no issues are in dispute and both parties are generally in agreement. The longest portion of this divorce process is the “PSA”, a Property Settlement Agreement. Parties may go back and forth for months to come to a final agreement. The PSA is settled through attorneys – each party has their own – who negotiate back and forth on their behalf. Once the PSA is finalized (signed and notarized by both parties) and the statutory time has passed (6 months or 1 year), the Complaint can be filed with the court.

An uncontested, no-fault divorce requires the following:

  • The parties must be separated for six months (if no minor children), or one year (if shared minor children), and have signed a PSA.
  • Plaintiff will file the Complaint* for Divorce and have it formally served upon the Defendant or have the Defendant execute a waiver of service.
  • Wait the statutory period (21 days) for the Defendant to either file an Answer, a waiver, or endorse the Final Decree.
  • Once the statutory period has lapsed, you can proceed with finalizing the Divorce. Finalizing the Divorce includes the filing of:
    • Final Decree of Divorce
    • A copy of the agreed upon property settlement agreement
    • Notarized affidavits of the moving party and a corroborating witness
    • Confidential addendum to protect identity,
    • Original VS-4 State Statistical form
    • (if applicable) Name Change Order to restore former name

While this is the most affordable option, it is contingent upon agreement of both parties, which is often not the case during a divorce proceeding.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Clients who have already agreed on everything, or who are close to an agreement and don’t foresee their spouse to be disagreeable.

Contested Divorce

When both parties cannot come to an agreeable solution regarding property distribution, spousal support, and parenting plans, a divorce is contested. There are several ways to handle a contested divorce, and your attorney can help you understand what is best for you.


Arbitration happens when a couple cannot come to an agreement and wish to resolve the issues without going to court. Their case is heard in a private setting before an Arbitrator instead of a Judge in a court. The arbitrator decides the final outcome.


Allows couples to negotiate directly with each other with the help of a mediator. A mediator does not have power to make decisions like a judge or an arbitrator.


This is a unique approach where both parties agree to not go to court and utilize different “team members” to assist them. These team members include a Financial Neutral, a Child Specialist, Divorce Coaches, as well as the two attorneys representing each party.

A common misconception of collaborative divorce is that the couple can both work with the same attorney. Even though this is the most harmonious and agreeable type of divorce, each party is still required to retain their own attorney.

RECOMMENDED FOR: All three of these contested options are for clients who have not come to an agreement, but want to work things out in as civil a manner as possible, without going before a Judge.


Litigation happens when parties cannot agree through any other method, therefore the terms of the divorce will be decided in court. The process begins with the filing of the Complaint, then Discovery** begins. (The Discovery process is usually what costs clients the most in a contested divorce.) After the Discovery process is complete, there may be many hearings, to include Pendente Lite***. This can last years and while settlement proposals may be attempted during this time, if those attempts fail, a trial will be held. After the trial, the judge makes the final determination as to the split of property, custody, and other items in dispute.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Clients who have not come to an agreement and for whom an agreement is not likely, and therefore requires court intervention.

Regardless of the type of divorce required, the goal is always to come to an agreement (a signed PSA). As we mentioned, there is a wide range of possible costs for uncontested and especially for contested divorces and much of this cost depends upon the depth and length of the Discovery process.

If you need help with your divorce proceedings or are interested in the Collaborative Divorce process, contact me today and we can discuss the most harmonious and cost-effective way to handle this difficult time.

For additional resources, please visit:

City of Chesapeake Uncontested Divorce Manual

City of Chesapeake Contested Divorce Manual

Virginia Collaborative Divorce site

Collaborative Divorce Solutions of Tidewater


*Complaint is the official document filed with the court in order to file for divorce. This document states basic information about both spouses, lists the general reasons for why you are divorcing, and requests that the court grant your divorce.

**Discovery is the exchange of information between parties. This process usually consists of lots of paperwork back and forth, such as credit card statements, bank statements, tax returns, text messages, anything that may relate to the case. Sometimes these documents are requested from the beginning of the marriage to the present – which is what creates so much paperwork and drives up the cost.

***Pendente Lite hearing is when either party files a motion for “pendente lite relief,” meaning a temporary order from the court with regard to a pressing issue that needs to be addressed prior to the final hearing in the divorce. This will usually address child and/or spousal support, court ordered use of the marital home, payment of the bills or other marital debts until the divorce is finalized, determination of temporary custody and/or visitation of the minor children, and to prevent the harassment of either party.