What is a Contested Divorce?

Posted on July 26, 2018 04:16pm
What is a Contested Divorce?

When couples decide to divorce, they very rarely have everything worked out ahead of time. Sorting out serious issues like child custody, spousal support, and property division can be difficult for even the most amiable spouses, and a downright nightmare for more contentious couples. If you and your spouse are unable to agree on some or any of the terms in your divorce, your divorce is considered “contested.”

When Does a Divorce Become Contested?

Essentially, if one or both spouses dispute the terms of the divorce it is contested. When a spouse files for divorce, they are considered the “sole petitioner,” and must outline the divorce terms they seek in a document called a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that they then file with the family law court. The other spouse, called the “respondent,” is served the petition and then has 30 days to respond and counter-petition. If the respondent does not respond, the divorce is uncontested, and you may proceed with the court to receive a judgement by default. However, if the respondent files a counter-petition, that means your divorce is contested.

How Does a Contested Divorce Work?

A contested divorce is any divorce in which the parties cannot agree on all terms. While contested divorces may end up at trial, many of the disagreements in a contested divorce can be resolved through negotiations or mediation to reach a divorce settlement outside of court. If you expect your divorce will be contested, it is wise to seek out the advice of a divorce lawyer before you file or respond to divorce papers.

The Procedure for a Contested Divorce

A contested divorce is much more common than uncontested, and the procedure for a contested divorce is exactly what most people think of when they think of divorce.

The process for a contested divorce can be complicated, so you should review your options, gather information, and create a plan with your divorce attorney before making any concrete decisions.


If you are the petitioner, the divorce petition must first be prepared, filed, and served to your spouse. After your spouse has responded to the petition, you and your attorney should continue gathering information pertaining to your divorce and the issues at hand.


Once the preparation work has been completed, the actual contested divorce process will begin with pre-trial legal motions and hearings. Your attorney and the attorney of your spouse will then exchange settlement proposals and negotiate terms to find a compromise between both sides. You may also use dispute resolution services like mediation. If negotiation or mediation is a success, your attorney will prepare a settlement agreement and file it with the court.


If settlement cannot be reached, a trial will begin. The court will then hear your case and decide on all the issues of your divorce. After the trial is completed, you and your spouse will be left with court orders, which are legally binding instructions that may pertain to child support, child custody, visitation, property division, spousal support, and any other applicable aspects of divorce.

If you have any issues with the decisions of the court, you may be able to appeal, but this is often a steep path. You can also consider filing for modifications of certain orders, including child support orders, parenting plans, and spousal support, if your situation meets the requirements.

How Long Does a Contested Divorce Take?

The length of a contested divorce increases based on the complexity of the issues and how strongly the spouses disagree. Read our post on “How Long Does a Divorce Take in Oregon” for details.

Contact McKinley Irvin at our Oregon office to talk about your divorce case.
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