What is a Contested Divorce?
It is the type of divorce that you do not want to find yourself in. It is the divorce that will drain you out of all your resources, including money, time, and energy. A contested divorce is opposite to an “uncontested divorce”. Unlike in an uncontested divorce, where parties agree to part ways, and plan their exit route relatively collaboratively, in a Contested Divorce, parties work against each other. They take a defensive protective stand as trust is usually lost.
A contested divorce happens when parties each want different things related to the matrimonial property, kids, support and anything else they are required to re-assess in the process of divorcing. In a contested divorce, those issues get dissected into individual court matters which require various document preparation and filing, as well as sometimes multiple court appearances. For those reasons, parties in a contested divorce typically choose to hire a lawyer to represent their case. Here are 5 common things you would find in a contested divorce:
- Parties lose trust in one another. They feel that they need to be extra cautious and protective of their children and assets.
- Where in an uncontested divorce situation divorces can be finalized within a few months, contested divorces could take years.
- Financial disclosure is usually a big issue in contested divorces. Because of the lack of trust, parties can be reluctant to provide complete and detailed disclosure.
- Parties battling a contested divorce often feel helpless and overwhelmed by the intertwined and unpredictable process.
- A contested divorce can cost a person in the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Sometimes one of the separated parties is not willing to sit at a table and discuss matters. She chooses to dive right into the court system and therefore, the other party is forcefully pulled into a contested divorce battle. Some do not want the fight, the back and forth, nor the involvement of the courts, but have no choice but to participate in order to defend themselves. In certain cases, a Justice may order parties to go to mediation in order to resolve their differences. This gives them a chance to attempt a non-adversarial type of conflict resolution. Mediation works best when parties both agree to it and are fully committed to the process. In Alberta, a Justice may order a JDR, a Judicial Dispute Resolution, which is a mediation lead by a Justice of the Court.
Because a contested divorce carries a lot of steps and processes, and requires endless court documentation and appearances, fees can increase very quickly. In an article entitled "The Going Rate 2003", Canadian Lawyer Magazine reported the results of their annual survey of legal fees. The highest cost for a contested divorce in Alberta was an astounding $150,000!
When I began working at the courthouse in 2007 as a Divorce Clerk, I got all the jobs that the experienced clerks preferred to avoid. One of those jobs was to go the basement where the big files were stored and pull them for the clerks or Judges. By big files, I mean files that include so many documents that they had to be put in two, three, sometimes up to seven cardboard file boxes! When I looked around that basement, I didn’t just see the boxes; what I saw was money wasted; custody issues hanging in limbo, and lives consumed by stress and uncertainty. Each extra document lost in a file box means that there is an area in the parties’ separation that is not resolved and therefore, that people involved not have peace of mind. Divorce does not have to be seven boxes long. Divorce can be simple and purposeful but it requires two things: Parties to focus on moving forward and hiring the right person to ensure your files are accurate and that they do not get lost in the court basement.
If you are not ready to sit down with your ex-spouse and talk about your issues, wait. Wait until you are. Wait until you are clear minded enough to think logically about your priorities. If you feel that you are not able to get there alone, seek the help of a professional to help YOU heal. Once you are in a state of mind where emotions are no longer taking the lead, that’s when you are able to face your ex-spouse in a way that can be productive and not destructive to both of you; that’s when perhaps you can both agree to an uncontested divorce as opposed to a dreadful never-ending contested divorce.