Uncontested divorces range from simple cases without children and marital assets to complicated cases with custody issues and property division. If the uncontested divorce qualifies as a simplified divorce or for a summary judgment, it usually can be expedited. However, a lengthy marriage with dependent children and a large estate often presents complicated issues. Court rules vary from state to state based on the type of uncontested divorce. Some states require a couple to submit joint petitions with settlement agreements attached and attend family mediation. Any unresolved issues can cause a rejection of the documents or delay in the court proceedings.
If the spouses fail to resolve all issues relevant to the divorce, the divorce can easily turn into a contested case and cause extended delays. Uncontested divorces require spouses to reach an agreement on all issues pertinent to the divorce in most states. Both spouses must agree on the cause of the divorce, division of marital property and any applicable child custody issues. Family courts often provide court mediators to help work out the details of the divorce and some states order mandatory mediation for spouses with children. However, scheduling the mediation appointment and court hearing take time.
It takes time to navigate the legal process, even in uncontested matters where both spouses agree to proceed collaboratively. Self-represented spouses can often file joint petitions in uncontested divorces, with or without legal assistance. If spouses prefer to complete the documents themselves, they need to research the correct forms and learn how to file them. Minor mistakes can potentially lead to filing rejections by the court clerk's office. If each spouse prefers to hire an attorney, the attorneys need time to review the case and prepare the divorce petition along with any attachments. Some states require couples to have their signatures notarized before filing, which adds additional preparation time. If an attorney finds any significant errors in the divorce petition or supplemental attachments, corrections will be necessary, adding extra time to the process.
Service of Process
Serving the documents on the other party in an uncontested divorce can cause delays. States typically require service of process for divorces without a joint petition. The spouse that initiates the divorce, known as the petitioner, must serve the documents on the other spouse, the respondent. The petitioner must then submit proof of service to the court before the divorce action may proceed. Courts allow the respondent a certain number of days to respond. However, the respondent can send back the response immediately, expediting the process. Service on a respondent in jail, out of state or in another country, such as Mexico, often lengthens the process. If the respondent cannot be found and must be served by publication, the uncontested divorce will be granted by default which takes additional time.
Incomplete Settlement Agreements
Incomplete settlement agreements cause additional delays in uncontested divorces. The settlement agreement addresses each issue pertinent to the marriage, including the division of marital assets, child custody, child support and spousal support. If a couple fails to include all assets, such as retirement accounts or savings bonds, the court will likely require a new settlement agreement to be drafted and resubmitted to the court. The court might also question incomplete property appraisals, request additional property evaluations or require supplemental supporting documentation. In such cases, the court will typically allot additional time to resolve these issues and set a court date for the parties to return.