Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce in California (2024) – What’s the Difference?

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce in California (2024) – What’s the Difference?

December 15, 2022

Divorce can be difficult to navigate, even under the best circumstances. The process of separating two lives takes a great deal of time and attention, so emotions and stress often run high. Working with an experienced divorce attorney, like the team at the Edgar & Dow, can make the process easier to manage. Whether the divorce is contested or uncontested, it will follow a similar trajectory.

Divorce in California

There are certain requirements in place that must be met before an individual may file for divorce in California. One of the primary requirements is the residency requirement. To file for divorce in California, the couple must have:

  • Been a resident of the state for a minimum of six months.
  • Been a resident of the county where the papers are filed for at least three months.

If these requirements are met, then the divorce can proceed. When divorce papers are filed, there must also be a reason given why the marriage is ending.

Divorce Justifications Accepted in California

If you are filing for divorce in California, then you are required to provide a reason why the marriage is ending. There are two grounds, or accepted legal reasons, to file for divorce in California.

The two legal grounds for divorce in California are:

  1. Irreconcilable Differences: This is the most common reason given for a divorce. When these are the grounds given for a divorce, it means that something has happened to cause a rift in the marriage that cannot be repaired. One spouse firmly believes that the relationship cannot be mended, so they are choosing to end the marriage instead. These grounds do not require any additional support or evidence for them to be accepted.
  2. Permanent Incapacity: If an individual uses these grounds when they are filing for divorce, it means that their spouse is unable to make major decisions. Something has happened to take away their mental capacity for the decision-making process, so they should not have legal capacity for it either. Unlike irreconcilable differences, if an individual lists permanent incapacity as their grounds for divorce, they are required to show proof. This is most often in the form of some type of legal documentation.

Most divorce cases in California will list irreconcilable differences as the grounds because it is easier. Another thing that makes the process somewhat smoother is the fact that California allows for no-fault divorces. This means that the individual who files for divorce initially does not have to provide any proof of wrongdoing on the part of their spouse to be granted the divorce. They may have to navigate a contested divorce, however.

Contested vs. Uncontested

When an individual files for divorce, they give their spouse an opportunity to respond. The response from the spouse will determine whether the divorce will be contested or uncontested.

An uncontested divorce is much simpler to navigate. In these circumstances, both parties can agree on all of the terms of the divorce. All the assets and debts are equally divided, and the divorce can proceed. An uncontested divorce is more likely to be finalized at the end of the mandatory waiting period, barring any unexpected delays.

A contested divorce can be more difficult and take much longer. In these circumstances, the former couple is unable to agree on the terms of the divorce. There may be disagreements about the division of assets or child custody. Any outstanding issues will need to be resolved with the help of mediators or the court. A contested divorce may be finalized at the end of the mandatory waiting period, but many of them take much longer.


Q: What happens if a divorce is contested in California?

A: If a divorce is contested in California, it means that the couple was not able to agree on the terms of the divorce. In these cases, many of the details will need to be finalized by a judge. When a divorce is contested, both parties will likely have to go through some form of mediation to ensure that their assets are divided evenly.

Q: What is the difference between contested and uncontested cases?

A: “Contested” and “uncontested,” when referring to divorce proceedings, refers to the way each party is handling the divorce. In an uncontested divorce, when one person files the necessary paperwork, the other spouse chooses not to argue against it. The former couple can agree on terms, so the divorce can proceed. A contested divorce, on the other hand, happens when the involved parties cannot agree on the terms of the divorce. All issues will then be decided by the courts.

Q: What are the stages of a contested divorce?

A: A contested divorce will largely follow the same process as an uncontested divorce. A contested divorce may just take longer to complete. Once the initial papers are filed, the spouse contesting the divorce will need to file a response. Once that is done, both parties will share financial information, so any assets or debts that were obtained during the marriage can be split equally. Once that is completed, the process of dividing assets can begin, followed by the divorce being approved and finalized by the courts.

Q: How long does it take to finalize an uncontested divorce in California?

A: Uncontested divorce proceedings generally take much less time to complete than contested divorces. A contested divorce will have several additional steps that must be followed, while an uncontested divorce is much more straightforward. If there are no delays and both parties agree to make the process easier, an uncontested divorce in California can be finalized in as little as six months. That timeframe is established by California’s mandatory waiting period before a divorce can be granted.

California Divorce Attorneys

Divorce is always a complicated process. Navigating a contested divorce can be particularly challenging. Dealing with heavy emotions while also working to divide all marital assets and debts equally can prove difficult. An experienced divorce attorney can help you approach the process with a clear head so that the outcome is favorable to everyone. Contact the experts at the Edgar & Dow today for divorce assistance.


The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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