Finding an agreement in a divorce might seem like a Herculean task. However, the differences between a contested vs uncontested divorce can shape your legal cost.
It’s estimated that roughly 689,308 couples get divorced every year. There’s no denying that any divorce can be a difficult and painful time for most families. However, from a legal standpoint, there’s typically an easy way and a hard way when it comes to divorce.
Uncontested divorces tend to be a much more straightforward and affordable option than contested divorces. However, it’s important to note that divorce laws vary from state to state.
That’s why we’ll be discussing the contested vs uncontested divorce process as it applies in the state of Maryland. That way, you can decide what’s best for both yourself and your family.
Contested Divorce Process in Maryland
A contested divorce occurs when one or both spouses disagree on various issues related to their divorce. These tend to revolve around child custody, property assets, alimony, and child support.
Just because a divorce is contested doesn’t mean it will go to trial. However, if agreements can’t be reached a judge will need to determine who gets what. Here’s how the typical contested divorce process works in Maryland.
File for Divorce
The first thing you will need to do is file a divorce petition against your spouse with the courts. This petition will include a variety of information including contact details, marriage specifics, the reason you’re seeking a divorce, your custody wishes, and more.
It’s important to note that Maryland’s divorce law changed recently. In the past, you were able to seek a limited divorce.
Now, the only option is an absolute divorce, and the grounds available for it have changed. According to Maryland Code, Family Law § 7-103, there are now three grounds for divorce. They include:
- A six-month separation before filing for divorce
- Irreconcilable differences you both can’t resolve
- Mutual consent between both parties
If one of these legal grounds doesn’t apply to you, you can’t get a divorce. Once you’ve filed the petition, you’ll need to make copies. Then, you’ll bring the document to your local courthouse.
You’ll pay a filing fee and give them the original document. However, you should keep at least two copies – one for yourself and another one to serve to your spouse.
Response and Counter-Complaint
Once you serve your spouse with the divorce papers, they’ll have a period to respond. If they’re in Maryland, they have thirty days. If they’re in another state, they have sixty days.
And if they’re out of the country, they have ninety days. If they don’t respond, you can begin a default divorce.
If your spouse has allegations they want to file against you, they can fill out a counter-complaint, which they’ll deliver to the court. This will then need to be served to you.
Divorce Discovery Phase
If your contested divorce is proceeding to court, you will likely enter a discovery phase. During this time, the court will provide both spouses with a deadline.
Before the deadline, lawyers on both sides can request a variety of information. This might include things like depositions where your lawyer interviews your spouse.
Interrogatories, which are lists of questions your spouse must answer, are also common. You’re also entitled to ask for specific documents. Things like credit card statements can help your lawyer establish spending habits.
If your partner refuses to provide a certain document, you can issue a subpoena to obtain it. It’s important to note that not all contested divorces will require discovery.
However, all courts in Maryland do allow it. This phase is why it’s really important to pick the right contested divorce attorney. The evidence you get during the discovery phase will often determine the strength of your trial case. It can also be used to negotiate a more advantageous settlement.
Divorce mediation is the process of hiring a mediator who works with both sides (and their lawyers) to reach an understanding of contested matters. A divorce mediator is not the same as a lawyer-they’re an objective party that works to resolve disputes.
Typically, the court will be encouraged to seek mediation voluntarily. However, in Maryland, the judge may force you to go through court-mandated mediation.
Just keep in mind that even if you need to go through mediation, you’re not required to come to a resolution regarding your contested divorce. Mediation is private, so you don’t need to worry about things you say being used against you in a trial.
If you can reach an agreement, the mediator will draft together a marital settlement agreement. Keep in mind that this settlement can be reached at any time during the divorce process. However, you will need to meet with the judge to confirm that no one forced the other party into the agreement.
If you can’t resolve your differences, your contested divorce will go to trial. During this trial, both sides’ lawyers will make arguments, interview witnesses, and present evidence to the judge.
In some cases, experts may be called to the stand to make the argument that one parent is more fit for custody than the other. Once the trial is over, the judge will provide you with a divorce decree.
This will contain all the information related to the verdict. If you ever want to modify this document in the future, you will need a Maryland court order to do so.
Uncontested Divorce Process in Maryland
Uncontested divorce proceedings occur when both parties agree on all of the issues and reasons related to the divorce.
It requires the couple to draft and sign a settlement agreement, which they must provide in person to a judge. As you can guess, a no-fault divorce is quick, simple, and far less expensive than a contested divorce. Here’s how they typically work in Maryland.
When you file your divorce forms, you’ll need a completed and signed settlement agreement as well. As such, it makes sense to get it over with before proceeding.
We recommend sitting down with your spouse to negotiate the specific terms of this agreement. In some cases, you may want to have a mediator or lawyer present.
That’s because big things are at stake in the document, including how you will divide assets, child custody arrangements, and alimony/child support payments.
We always recommend having your lawyer review the contract before you sign it. That way, you’re sure that you know all the terms surrounding your divorce. Click on this resource to find a copy of the marital settlement agreement in Maryland.
Filling Out Divorce Forms
Once you finish your settlement agreement, you’ll file for a divorce with the courts just like you would in a contested divorce. Make sure to mark Mutual Consent as your grounds for getting the divorce.
In addition to the settlement agreement, you’ll also need to include financial statements and a Civil Domestic Information Report. If you both have children, you’ll also need a child-support worksheet and parenting plan. If you can’t afford the filing fees, you can include a filing fee waiver.
Mutual Consent Divorce Hearing
Once the courts have reviewed all your paperwork, they’ll ask for a mutual consent divorce hearing. Typically, only one spouse needs to be present at this hearing.
During the hearing, the judge will review your settlement agreement. If you have children, he’ll review your parenting plan to make sure it’s in their best interest. If there are no problems, the judge will approve your agreement and the divorce will be final.
Contested vs Uncontested Divorce: How Do They Compare?
There’s no denying that an uncontested divorce is a more attractive option for most families. It’s going to save you a lot of money and time. And that’s not to mention the peace of mind that comes with ending a painful marriage as soon as possible.
So from a logical standpoint, most of the time, spouses should always try to reach agreements through mediation first. However, sometimes divorces aren’t so simple. This is true if there are significant assets between the two of you that you’re both entwined in.
Navigating divorce with children can also be a nightmare, especially if your spouse wants to actively keep them from seeing you. In these situations, you might feel the need to fight for your custody or visitation rights through a contested divorce.
However, it’s important to remember that contested divorces can be traumatic for young children. As such, you need to ask yourself difficult questions.
Is an improved custody situation worth this potential pain and suffering? Do I have the financial resources to deal with the divorce cost? If you aren’t sure, we recommend discussing it with an experienced legal professional to get an honest answer.
Going Through a Divorce? Contact Blattner Family Law Group
We hope this guide helped you learn more about the differences between the contested vs uncontested divorce process in Maryland. Here at Blattner Family Law Group, we know that different individuals have different needs when it comes to divorce.
That’s why during our free 45-minute consultation we’ll learn more about your specific needs and goals. From there, we’ll decide whether a contested or uncontested divorce is the right call for you.
What’s more, do so in a way that’s supportive and empathic. So schedule your consultation with us today to get the help you need.