The law and you: The uncontested divorce

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by Paul A. Ellis Jr. Esq

If you should find yourself in the unpleasant situation where you and your spouse have decided to go your separate ways, you can save yourself from plenty of heartache and financial expenditures by following the simple steps of an uncontested divorce.

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There are two types of divorce: contested and uncontested. In a contested divorce, one or both parties to a marriage cannot agree on when or how the divorce should take place. In this instance, the Court cannot even assume jurisdiction unless the couple has been separated for two years. This delay can cause major problems for the person who truly just wants to “move on,” particularly when there are no children involved.

By contrast, an uncontested divorce, sometimes referred to as a No-Fault divorce, typically takes a little more than 90 days to fully resolve, once the initial papers are filed.

There are some basic forms to complete, a filing fee (usually between $150-$200), a mandatory 3-month waiting period, and complete agreement over the issues. In order to avoid an expensive divorce, the parties should first and foremost come to an agreement regarding their marital assets. This can include things like household furniture and electronics, vehicles, sale of the marital residence, bank accounts, pets, jewelry, etc.

It also includes typical joint contract civil obligations such as credit cards, life insurance policies, loans, pensions, annuities, mortgages, time-shares, car payments, and so forth. Therein lies the difference between the contested and uncontested divorce.

For example, in a contested divorce, if the spouse who wishes to remain in the marital residence does not have a sufficient credit profile to convince the couple’s mortgage finance company to amend the mortgage to be put into their name exclusively, the Court will most likely force the sale of the residence and distribute the equity in a manner consistent with the facts of the case.

There are times when the forced sale of a residence may not be the best solution for either spouse. In an uncontested divorce, the couple can resolve issues between themselves before finalizing in Court, and thus avoid litigation. Whatever agreement the couple decides upon will eventually be reduced to writing. The terms will be spelled out in a Marital Separation Agreement, which will be signed by a Judge and become an Order of Court, and be contractually binding.

Unfortunately, many people elect not to cooperate with their spouse out of spite, anger, disappointment, pride, a general inability to have an adult conversation, or an unwillingness to engage in constructive conflict-resolution.

Typically, these resentments yield to increased cooperation when the reality of how expensive litigation is, and how inconvenient the multiple court appearances are when work schedules other responsibilities are affected. In those instances, a contested divorce can be converted into an uncontested one, again saving time and money, and side-stepping needless hassle.

The bottom line is that the divorce process in Allegheny County’s Court of Common Pleas’ Adult Family Division is predicated on the cooperation, or lack thereof, of the married couple.

The more you fight, the more expensive the process is. Anything you cannot decide on will be decided for you after a series of often-bitter court hearings, regardless of how minor the issue may be, relatively speaking. Come to an agreement about everything, and your divorce will go much smoother.

Individual circumstances affect cases differently, therefore this column is not to be construed as legal advice necessarily pertaining to you directly. To ensure adequate protection for yourself, you should consult your own Attorney.

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