This is a question I get a lot, and more often than not people think that they have an “uncontested” divorce when in reality they have a very contested divorce.
“Uncontested” divorce means that ALL issues are agreed upon.
Everything has been discussed and agreed upon, from who gets what time to who pays what debts.
There are no arguments because there is an agreement on everything.
When you are filing for an uncontested divorce, the only thing you are hiring a lawyer for is to draft the agreement, make things a lot easier, and ensure that your divorce is done quickly and efficiently with all agreements included (and legally binding).
Uncontested divorce cases are cheaper and can get done a lot faster than contested divorce cases, sometimes as quickly as just over a month.
(note: the mandatory period after service or the entry of a Waiver of Service in Missouri is 30 days)
Usually, there is no need for a court appearance, and often only one side has an attorney that submits documents to the Court.
Please note I said “one side”. You are not able to hire an attorney to represent you both (and if you find one, run).
It is, in at least my opinion, impossible to represent two sides of an issue and still meet the required ethical obligations that attorneys must abide by.
That being said, I am often hired to represent one side, and the only thing I have been hired to do is draft up the agreement that was reached by the parties.
I might offer advice here or there if an issue comes up in the agreement, but by and large, I am not going to try and screw up what is already agreed upon.
If you have agreed on most everything, your case is not uncontested.
That does not necessarily mean that you will have to have a full-blown trial with exhibits and witnesses, but that you might need to have attorneys discuss the issue and see if there is a solution you could both live with.
You might even have a hearing (or settlement conference, or status conference, or one of a thousand other names that courts have for pre-trial hearings) that allows the Judge to weigh in on the issue.
Over 90% of all matters in my office settle before there is a full trial.
If there is an issue that the attorneys cannot agree on in a contested divorce, listen to what the Judge has to say and try and resolve it.
There is a chance you might change the Judge’s mind at trial, but more likely than not you will only end up paying a lot more for the same result you could have gotten months earlier by following the advice of your attorney and listening to what the Judge had to say on the issue.
So, what about mediation?
Divorce mediation has a time and a place. Often times the Court will send a contested case to mediation during a case anyway.
There are also divorce mediation attorneys who have specialized training to offer divorce mediation services to see if you can make your contested divorce an uncontested divorce before anyone hires an attorney.
Note, however, that if you cannot settle the issue, you cannot use the mediator (and often anything that was discussed at mediation) for the divorce.
You will need to start from scratch and hire a new attorney. It is also not binding until the documents are drawn up and signed by a Judge.
I like mediation in many situations, but hate it when domestic violence is present.
For mediation to be a true success, there needs to be equal bargaining power, and victims of domestic violence (especially if they are still living together) tend to settle for far less than they are entitled to for fear of harm or because they have been mentally beaten down they don’t think they deserve what they are asking for.
If there is a history of domestic violence, my advice is to let the attorneys hammer it out.