A contested divorce case is where either one or many issues are in dispute. A contested case can last anywhere from six months to two and a half years, depending on the nature of the case and the county in which the case is filed. A contested case basically means that both parties are not willing to agree on all of the terms that are required in a divorce case. The parties may agree that they both want to seek a divorce. The parties may even agree on a series of issues. However, unless the parties agree on every issue, your case is not going to be uncontested. If there is even one issue or one stumbling block, or one item that prevents one party from signing the documents, you have a contested case.
Now, a contested case can be relatively easy to solve if there is only one issue that’s in contest, and we can pretry that issue or we can negotiate that issue. However, if we have several issues that are contested, it’s going to be very difficult to solve the case swiftly.
Custody is probably the most hotly contested issue in a contested case. In many cases, each party feels that they are the fit and proper person to have the sole care, custody, and control of the minor child or children. In reality, the court doesn’t want to force custody upon one party or another, or even render a decision on custody without careful analysis from experts, including guardians ad litem, child representatives, and experts that the court uses to determine what is the best interest of the child.
One of the difficult things that I find with contested cases is that there really is no issue in dispute other than the fact that one party simply does not want to end the marriage. I see this commonly in cases where one party has moved on, found another significant other, and wants to restart his or her life in that new arrangement. The other party, who is contesting the divorce, feels slighted, feels scorned, feels left behind, and doesn’t know exactly what is going to become of him or her after the dissolution. For these reasons – spite, anger, jealousy, and what-not – one party simply will not agree to sign documents, and will drag their heels and make the case proceed on a long-term basis.
At some point in every contested case, one of two things is going to happen. First, the parties are either going to settle their issues once they feel that the war is over and it’s time to move on, or two, the court is going to set a trial date and the court is actually going to bring the case to a conclusion through the use of a trial.
In over 99 percent of contested divorce cases, there will not be a trial. The court will do everything in its power to encourage the parties to settle the case. There is a pretrial negotiation that takes place before any kind of trial date, whereby the judge is going to give his or her recommendation on what he or she feels is the likely outcome of the case. The attorneys then take that result or that opinion back to their clients to further negotiations. It is only the most stubborn of clients or attorneys which would require a case to actually go to a trial. That is the basis of a contested case, from start to finish.