No matter why or how your marriage has ended, most states offer a divorce procedure to accommodate your circumstances, but trying to sort them out and decide which is right for you can be confusing. The terminology can vary from state to state, although the procedures are much the same and some terms are interchangeable.
Uncontested Vs. Contested Divorce
Your divorce is uncontested if you and your spouse agree on how to resolve all issues of property, custody and support. You don't need a judge to decide these things for you because you've prepared and jointly signed a marital settlement agreement. You can submit it to the court for approval and be divorced without a trial. Your divorce is contested if there's even one issue you and your spouse can't agree on, so that issue must be decided by the court. Many divorces are both contested and uncontested. You and your spouse might not agree on everything when one of you files for divorce, but you might settle before your case goes to trial. Your divorce began as contested, but will resolve as uncontested because a judge hasn't decided issues for you.
A default divorce is a form of uncontested divorce. It occurs when your spouse does not respond to your divorce papers or involve himself in the divorce in any way. He doesn't file answering pleadings with the court within the time frame set by individual state law. When this occurs, you don't actually have a settlement agreement, but your spouse isn't contesting anything either. Most courts will finalize a default divorce by granting the spouse who filed everything she asked for in her petition or complaint.
Simplified or Summary Divorce
"Simplified" or "summary" divorces are also uncontested divorces. In states that offer simplified or summary divorce, you and your spouse must have a signed marital settlement agreement before you begin the divorce proceedings. You must usually file a joint petition for divorce together. Some states will not allow you to use this option if you have children, and Florida requires that you waive your rights to alimony and to appeal your divorce decree later. Ohio calls this type of divorce a dissolution of marriage. Courts usually finalize summary or simplified divorces within a few months.
Fault Vs. No-Fault Divorce
The terms "fault" and "no-fault" don't have anything to do with whether your divorce is uncontested or contested -- they relate to the grounds on which you file. All states require grounds for divorce in divorce petitions or complaints. Your grounds are your reason for ending the marriage. All states have no-fault grounds, but in some, you and your spouse must live separately for a period of time to qualify. In others, you can simply tell the court your marriage is irretrievably broken or you have irreconcilable differences. Some states recognize only no-fault grounds while others give you the option of filing on fault grounds instead. Fault grounds include such things as adultery, cruelty or desertion. They indicate that your spouse is guilty of some bad behavior that ended your marriage. In states that recognize fault grounds, they can sometimes affect issues of property distribution, support and custody if your divorce is contested.
Not all states recognize bifurcated divorces. In those that do, the court can grant your divorce before you decide issues of property, custody or support. A bifurcated divorce ends your marriage immediately, so you can remarry if you choose. Contested issues remain outstanding until you either reach a settlement with your spouse or go to trial.