Understanding What the Divorce Process Actually Looks Like in Practice

Understanding What the Divorce Process Actually Looks Like in Practice

April 15, 2021

Divorce tops the list as one of life’s most stressful events for adults. But it doesn’t need to be.

Understanding the divorce process helps you weigh your options so you can choose the path of least resistance.

A lot of factors come into play including assets, child support, alimony, and of course, emotions.

From contested and uncontested divorce to mediation, there are a few ways to successfully part ways with your spouse with minimal “collateral damage.”

Here we’ll cover the entire divorce process from start to finish and share tips for making it as seamless as possible for both parties.

Types of Divorce

Not all divorces are created equal. There are three main types of divorce: contested, uncontested, and mediation.

The last two on the list are the simplest, while a contested divorce can get messy and expensive.

Let’s take a closer look at each type of divorce to see which describes your situation so you have a better idea of what you’re up against.

Contested Divorce

If you’re considering divorce, chances are that you and your spouse are struggling to get along. The inability to find common ground might result in a contested divorce.

When two people can’t come to an agreement over one or more marital issues, a judge will decide for you. Contested divorces take substantially longer than other types of divorce.

More time means more money spent on attorney fees and associated costs.

Contested divorce involves mandatory negotiations, exchanging of financial information, and court appearances. If you still can’t come to an agreement, you’ll need to take the divorce to trial.

It’s this lengthy and expensive process that most couples want to avoid and why many opt for an uncontested separation or mediation.

Uncontested Divorce

On the other side of the spectrum is an uncontested divorce. As the name suggests, an uncontested divorce means that both parties can agree on all major issues regarding separation.

This type of divorce involves you and your spouse settling all differences up-front. This includes custody issues, property division, and financial support like alimony and child support.

All of these factors are then written up in a separation agreement (sometimes referred to as a settlement agreement). Now you can officially file for divorce.

Most courts will fast-track this process without requiring a court appearance. If you want a speedy, inexpensive, and non-stressful divorce, it’s in your best interest to settle out of court through an uncontested divorce.


Mediation is the step many couples take before officially filing for divorce. The main goal is to avoid court intervention and mounting legal fees.

Think of divorce mediation as couple’s therapy. The mediator is an unbiased third party whose job is to help resolve specific issues related to the separation. The mediator won’t make decisions for you or offer legal advice, but instead, help facilitate productive communication.

This process is just one form of ADR (alternative dispute resolution). It saves both parties a lot of time, money, and aggravation. If you can come to a meeting of the minds, the next step is preparing a settlement agreement, similar to that of an uncontested divorce.

Married couples that choose mediation must have an open mind and share a desire to end things swiftly and amicably.

Additional Types of Divorce

While contested, uncontested, and mediation are three of the most common types of divorce, they’re not the only ones.

A summary divorce is ideal for couples married less than five years with little shared assets and no children. Also known as a simplified divorce, most of the necessary paperwork can be found online.

Another ADR approach to divorce is known as collaborative divorce. In this situation, each person hires their own lawyer specifically trained in this process.

The lawyers agree to work on behalf of, and in the best interest of, their clients. Instead of the two spouses sitting down for mediation, the lawyers are responsible for all exchanges and communication.

The Divorce Process Explained

Now that you have a better idea of what types of divorce are available, you can take the necessary steps toward legal separation.

Ideally, an uncontested divorce or mediation is the way to go. Both of these processes save time, money, and emotional turmoil.

Sadly, not all couples can come to an agreement without court intervention. This is especially true if one party was unfaithful or did something egregious or malicious toward the other.

A contested divorce is also common if one spouse is being unreasonable about financial support or the division of property.

It’s in your best interest to put your differences aside and choose the path of least resistance.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to each of the three types of divorce.

Contested Divorce Proceedings

A contested divorce takes the most time, money, and energy.

First, you must file a complaint of divorce which informs both your spouse and the court that you want a divorce. This costs around $250.

Once filed, the courts will notify your spouse with a summons. They then have 35 days to respond with an answer, counterclaim, or court appearance.

Next is the divorce discovery phase which is broken into two parts — exchanging basic financial information followed by requests for additional information.

During the initial phase, both parties have 20 days to list all assets, liabilities, income, and expenses. This is so all property, assets, and debts can be fairly divided.

After the information is collected, the attornies may request documents and interrogations when necessary.

Now, you have to wait over 6 months for an early settlement panel to assess your case. This panel offers an unbiased opinion regarding a settlement.

Both parties and their attornies speak before the panel, after which they make a recommendation to the courts. If proceedings end here, you can still avoid trial. If children, custody, and support are involved, you may still need to take your divorce before a judge.

Any unsettled issues must also go before a judge. Luckily, 98% of contested divorces are settled without a trial.

Certain temporary motions for financial support may be issued prior to the trial.

If your divorce does go to trial, you’ll need to finalize all testimony, evidence, and arguments beforehand. The judge will consider all information before the ruling, which could take anywhere from a few hours to several days.

The last step in a contested divorce is the court’s final judgment which finalizes the decision. This could take up to six months depending on the complexity of the case.

Uncontested Divorce Proceedings

If you want to avoid the long, arduous process of a contested divorce, you’re not alone. An uncontested divorce can help speed things along when both parties are willing to work together to come to an agreement.

An uncontested divorce consists of three main steps: gathering information, negotiating, and filing.

Both spouses will exchange pertinent information and documents that allow the lawyers involved to make informed decisions. This also guarantees that both parties are on the same page.

Once all the information is gathered, negotiations will begin. In most cases, the parties are able to come to an agreement on all major issues. If not, a mediator may get involved (more on this in a minute).

When an agreement is finally reached, the lawyers can file the necessary paperwork and schedule an uncontested court hearing to finalize the separation.


Before any paperwork is filed or agreements are drafted, you may want to consider divorce mediation.

This is the ideal solution for an amicable divorce where both spouses agree on a majority of (if not all) issues regarding debt, property, custody, and financial support.

In some states, including NJ, divorce mediation is required in an attempt to resolve issues without court intervention. Not only is mediation a faster path to separation but it’s also more private, offering both parties confidentiality.

You can utilize mediation at any point in the divorce process if litigation comes to a standstill. Both parties will sit down with a neutral mediator to discuss and resolve issues.

Many couples ask their lawyers to be present during this process.

One of the biggest advantages of mediation is that you have more control over the outcome and have a better chance of finding common ground. This means separating with minimal conflict.

Mediation is best for parents, couples who are also business owners, and anyone who wants to remain amicable with their ex.

Divorce Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult

It’s no secret that getting divorced is emotionally and financially taxing. No one wants to see their marriage end, but sometimes, it’s out of your control.

What you can control is the divorce process and how involved it is. Opting for an uncontested divorce or mediation simplifies the process, saving you time, money, and heartache.

Contested divorces are long, costly, and arduous.

It’s my goal to help your divorce go as smoothly as possible so both you and your ex can move on.If you’re facing separation, reach out today and stop looking in the past and start dreaming of a brighter future.


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