I get a number of calls each week seeking information on divorce. Most of those calls go something like this:
Caller: I am seeking information on an uncontested divorce.
Me: Okay, I need to ask you a few questions. How long have you been married?
Caller: A little over six years.
Me: Do you have any minor children with your spouse?
Caller: Yes, we have a four-year-old little boy.
Me: Do you own a house together?
Caller: No, we rent an apartment.
Me: Have you and your spouse sat down and discussed how things are going to be divided and how you are going to raise your son from this point forward?
Caller: Not yet, but I can’t imagine we are going to disagree.
At that point I want to say, “Think again.” With rare exception does a divorce start off as uncontested. The true meaning of an uncontested divorce, at least from the court’s perspective, is where both spouses have sat down and worked out ALL the details of how the property will be divided, how parenting time will be divvied up and how much child support will be paid. If all those issues are not resolved, it is not an uncontested divorce.
The good news is the vast majority of divorces do end up uncontested, but getting to that point can be expensive and time consuming. As a general rule, the more you have in the way of property and assets, the more complicated the case will be and the longer it will take to reach an agreement. If the case does not settle, a trial will ensue and the judge, who is a complete stranger, will decide how your property will be divided and how your child will be raised.
In Tennessee, an uncontested divorce is referred to as an irreconcilable differences divorce. Before the judge can grant you a divorce based on irreconcilable differences, you and your spouse must have entered into an agreement that fairly and equitably divides up all the property, assets and liabilities. The judge is required to review the agreement to make sure it is fair and equitable. The judge must then state in the final decree of divorce that such a review has been made and that the judge finds the agreement fair and equitable. If after reviewing the agreement the judge does not think it is fair and equitable, the judge can refuse to grant the divorce and can order you and your spouse to renegotiate the agreement. In such a case, the judge can even make suggestions on what could be changed to make the agreement fair and equitable. If either of you refuse to make the changes, the judge can set the case for trial on those issues found to not be fair and equitable.
If children are involved in the divorce, a Permanent Parenting Plan must also be submitted to the judge for approval. The Parenting Plan must cover things such as parenting time, including holidays, child support, how major decisions will be handled, how disagreements will be handled, as well as a number of other issues involving the children. Just as with the property settlement agreement, the judge must review the Parenting Plan to make sure it adequately and sufficiently provides for the care and support of the children and that it is in the best interest of the children. If you and your spouse cannot agree on the Parenting Plan, or if the judge does not approve the Parenting Plan, then the case cannot proceed as an uncontested divorce.
If you truly want an uncontested divorce, sit down with your spouse and work out the details. I have found in recent years that there are so many resources available on the internet, most couples can actually prepare the bulk of the paperwork before even contacting an attorney. Doing so will save you both time and money.