Protecting Yourself in an Uncontested Divorce
In legal terms, divorce is the dissolution of a marriage prior to the death of either spouse. In Illinois, a divorce can move through the legal system as either contested or uncontested.
A contested divorce occurs when there are issues to settle between the parties, such as child custody and spousal maintenance. Typically, contested divorces take more time and may require the use of outside resources to resolve the disputed matters. Uncontested divorce, by contrast, occurs when spouses settle all issues privately and seek formal approval of the agreement from the Courts. Uncontested divorces, because the procedure is more or less a ratification of the couple's negotiated settlement, are less expensive and faster.
However, the ease and quickness of uncontested divorces may lead a spouse to believe he or she can skip certain steps that commonly occur during litigated divorce cases. While uncontested divorces are simpler from a legal standpoint, parties choosing to use this simplified process should still take precautionary measures to ensure their interests are adequately protected.
Uncontested Divorce Generally
Uncontested divorce refers to couples that have resolved all potential issues privately, and without the involvement of the Family Court System. In specific terms, this means the parties have settled:
- Child custody;
- Parenting time;
- Child/spousal support;
- Property division; and
- Debt allocation.
Obviously, if children are not involved, fewer issues need to be discussed. Once all is settled, the parties may file a joint divorce petition that stipulates the parties are in agreement on all issues. If the spouses share children, a parenting plan will also need to accompany the divorce petition. Uncontested divorces can be completed with a single Court appearance, and take as little as six to eight weeks to complete.
Protecting One's Interests
Even when there is seemingly nothing to fight over, certain considerations should still be kept in mind. The divorce, and the associated settlement between the parties, is a final, and almost always, irrevocable procedure that deserves careful reflection.
First, assuming the decision to divorce was reached amicably, one should still refrain from putting too much trust in the other spouse. Conducting an investigation to verify the existence of all shared debts and assets is necessary to avoid assuming liabilities unknowingly and giving up rights to marital property a spouse is otherwise entitled to receive.
Additionally, each party should retain his or her own attorney. While it may seem as though disputes do not exist, a lawyer can reveal and advise on issues and interests a party failed to consider, which may open up the need for further negotiations.
Next, when it comes to dividing property, if there is any question about the value of something, a third-party appraiser should be consulted to ensure the property trade is fair. Couples are susceptible to overvaluing the worth of property due to personal attachment that is not reflective of the reasonable market value. Using an appraiser can take the guess work out of this important aspect of the divorce settlement.
Finally, if issues of disagreement do arise and are not easily resolved, moving directly to litigation is not necessary. Other alternative dispute resolutions exist, such as mediation, that will give the parties a less confrontational option to settle areas of dispute. While these alternatives do involve additional costs, the expense is still much less than a full-blown contested divorce case.
Consult an Illinois Divorce Attorney
Divorce is a big decision with significant implications. To ensure you know all your rights and are getting a fair settlement, talk to an experienced Schaumburg divorce attorney about your case. The Law Office of Nicholas W. Richardson, P.C. works to understand the needs of his clients and to develop a strategy that will best help them reach their goals. Contact the office today for a free consultation.