If your marriage is ending, you may have not received the memo: You’re allowed to have an uncontested divorce.
That is, you don’t have to hire high-powered attorneys and do your best to do your worst and ruin each other’s lives. Your divorced friends or family may try to convince you otherwise, but you and your ex might find that your wallets (and nerves) come out ahead in an uncontested divorce, which is also often called a collaborative divorce.
So what is an uncontested divorce? In this scenario, spouses work out the terms of divorce without going to court. Sometimes that involves working it out completely on their own — without lawyers except at the very end. Though it’s possible to not use an attorney at all, you will probably want one to file the court papers for you.
But for some people, an uncontested divorce, or collaborative divorce, still involves working with attorneys. Either way, you’ve agreed to go through the process without fighting in court.
If you’re not sure if an uncontested divorce or collaborative divorce is right for you, here are some reasons to consider it.
Less Fighting and Less Anger in the Future
If you plan on never seeing your ex again after you’ve divorced, maybe you can make an argument that it’s fine to do your best to financially ruin him or her, and move on. Seems like a lousy way to live, but you could make that case.
If you have children or a lot of the same friends, however, you’ll enjoy your post-divorce life much more if you were able to work things out. Perhaps you’ll always harbor some hard feelings about the marriage, but if you can have good vibes about how you handled the divorce, and you’re both living your best lives afterward, that should bode well for everyone going forward.
You’ll Spend Far Less Money on Attorneys
That’s the main financial reason to consider an uncontested divorce — or a collaborative one.
Sharon DeFala is an attorney with the Law Offices Gary Oberst PC, in Norwalk, Connecticut. She specializes in working with divorcing couples and recalls meeting with a wife and then husband to discuss an uncontested dissolution. When DeFala spoke with the husband, he ranted and raved for a while and then asked how much she thought the divorce would cost.
“I almost laughed,” DeFala admits. “Instead, I said, ‘You are too angry to get a divorce right now. If you mediate or litigate, you will spend more on attorneys than you can afford to pay. There will be nothing left for the kids. Please go see a therapist and address your anger issues before you begin proceedings for a divorce.'”
Fortunately, the guy wisely listened to DeFala’s advice, went to a therapist with his soon-to-be ex, worked out a parenting plan, rented a second home and then came back to DeFala, who was able to help them end their marriage without ruining the family financially.
You May Understand Your Finances Better With an Uncontested Divorce
If you do it right, you’ll crunch your numbers and figure out in your post-marriage life exactly how much you need to pay in bills every month. You should also look at whether you will have enough to put away every month toward retirement or at least in an emergency fund.
Now, maybe you won’t have enough to go around for both of you to put much away, but certainly something is wrong if one spouse will be able to live high on the hog, and the other is reduced to dumpster diving.
“I have seen clients tempted to concede to less spousal support just to be done and to move on,” says Jenna Blackmon, an attorney who owns The Law & Mediation Office of Jenna Blackmon, in Los Angeles.
As you can imagine, Blackmon feels that that’s a big mistake.
“When parties do their homework — in this instance, forecasting income and expenses and appropriately budgeting, and know the minimum they need to be OK — they are coming to the negotiation with a firmer stance and able to know the limits of what they are willing to agree to,” Blackmon says, adding: “This makes the negotiation less contentious as well.”
But maybe just as importantly, when this divorce is over — and you’re living on your own — you’re going to understand your finances and spend your money possibly far better than if you had just decided on a random number and tried to make the best of it.
You Have More Control Over Your Fate
Erik Wheeler is a mediator in Burlington, Vermont, and owns Accord Mediation. He works on every topic imaginable, from divorce to estate issues and employer-employee conflicts. He makes a very strong case for working out the terms of your divorce between you and your spouse — or using a professional to help you come up with a post-marriage blueprint.
“In mediation, (divorcing couples) can take as much time as they need to work toward an agreement they can both be OK with,” Wheeler says. “In court, they have a limited amount of time, usually a few hours at most, and the judge can never understand their situation as well as they can.”
So think about it. Would you rather a judge tell you how things are going to be after your marriage, or would you like to have a say in how your assets are split up?
Wheeler also points out that you’re much more likely to both respect the agreement — and stick to it — if you’ve both had a hand in crafting it, rather than a judge.
Working these things out isn’t easy, Wheeler says. “In fact, it often gets quite heated.”
But he says that you’ll probably both be a lot happier if you work things out together rather than attack each other.
Of course, it should be pretty obvious to everyone that a collaborative divorce should at least be attempted. Otherwise, you’re competing in a contest between who can get the best lawyer — and often only the attorneys come out ahead. With an uncontested divorce, if all goes well, everybody will win.
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