Divorce is a complex and emotionally charged process that can take various forms, one of which is contested divorce. When a married couple decides to part ways, they often envision a swift and amicable separation. However, in some cases, disagreements on crucial issues like child custody, property division, and spousal support can lead to a contested divorce. But really, what is contested divorce? Let’s delve deep into the intricacies of a contested divorce, shedding light on its definition, common reasons, legal procedures, and alternatives. And if you need help navigating the often-ugly divorce waters, our divorce attorney Tracy CA might be your saving grace.

Defining Contested Divorce

A contested divorce refers to a situation where the spouses cannot come to a mutual agreement on the terms of their divorce, necessitating the intervention of the court. In contrast to an uncontested divorce, where both parties are in agreement on issues like asset division and child custody, contested divorces involve disputes that require judicial resolution.

Common Reasons for Contested Divorce

1. Financial Disputes

One of the most common reasons for a contested divorce is financial disputes. Arguments over the division of assets, debts, and spousal support can quickly escalate, leading to a contested divorce.

2. Child Custody Battles

Child custody is another major point of contention. Parents may have differing views on what is in the best interest of their children, leading to heated disputes.

3. Alimony and Support Issues

Disagreements over alimony (spousal support) and child support can also make a divorce contested. Determining the appropriate amount and duration of financial support can be a contentious issue.

4. Property Division

The division of property acquired during the marriage is a frequent source of disputes. Determining who gets what can become a lengthy legal battle.

5. Emotional and Relational Conflicts

Emotional and relational conflicts, including infidelity and abuse, can lead to contested divorces as well. These issues can intensify disputes and make it challenging for couples to reach an agreement.

The Legal Process of Contested Divorce

A contested divorce is a multi-step legal process that typically involves the following stages:

1. Filing a Petition

 The process begins with one spouse filing a divorce petition in the appropriate court. This document outlines the grounds for divorce and the issues in dispute.

2. Response from the Other Spouse

 The other spouse must respond to the petition within a specified timeframe. They can either agree with the terms presented in the petition or contest them by filing a response.

3. Discovery Phase

During this phase, both parties gather evidence to support their claims. This may involve financial disclosures, interviews, and document requests.

4. Mediation or Settlement Negotiations

Many courts require couples to attempt mediation or settlement negotiations before proceeding to trial. A neutral third party, such as a mediator, helps facilitate discussions in an effort to reach an agreement.

5. Pretrial Hearings

If mediation fails, the court may schedule pretrial hearings to address preliminary issues and set a trial date.

6. Trial

The trial is where the contested divorce case is heard before a judge. Both sides present their arguments, evidence, and witnesses. The judge then makes a final decision on the disputed issues.

7. Final Decree of Divorce

After the trial, the judge issues a final decree of divorce, outlining the terms of the divorce, including property division, child custody, visitation, and support arrangements.

8. Appeal (if applicable)

Either party may choose to appeal the judge’s decision if they believe it was reached in error.

Alternatives to Contested Divorce

Contested divorces can be emotionally and financially draining for both parties. Therefore, it’s essential to explore alternative dispute resolution methods:


Mediation allows couples to work together with a neutral mediator to reach agreements on disputed issues. It is less adversarial and can be more cost-effective than going to court.

When is Mediation Suitable?

Mediation may not be suitable for all divorcing couples. It is typically recommended when:

Both Parties are Willing: Mediation requires both parties to be willing to engage in the process and make good-faith efforts to reach agreements.

Open Communication is Possible: Mediation is most effective when both parties can engage in open and respectful communication.

Complexity is Manageable: While mediation can handle various issues, extremely complex financial or custody matters may be better suited for traditional litigation.

Safety Concerns are Absent: Mediation is not recommended in cases of domestic violence, where the safety of one or both parties is at risk.

A Desire for Amicable Resolutions Exists: Couples who wish to maintain a more amicable relationship post-divorce often find mediation to be a suitable option.

Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative divorce is an amicable alternative to a contested divorce. In this process, both spouses work together with specially trained attorneys to resolve disputes outside of court. Through open communication and negotiation, they aim to reach mutually agreeable solutions on issues like property division, child custody, and alimony. 

Collaborative divorce promotes a cooperative atmosphere, reduces conflict, and often leads to quicker and less costly resolutions. If an agreement cannot be reached, both attorneys withdraw, and the case proceeds to litigation. This approach prioritizes respectful dialogue and helps couples maintain a more positive relationship during and after divorce.


In arbitration, a neutral third party, the arbitrator, listens to both sides and makes a binding decision on the disputed issues. Instead of going to court, couples present their arguments and evidence to the arbitrator, who then issues a binding decision on the disputed issues. It offers a more streamlined, private, and cost-effective approach compared to litigation, allowing couples to avoid the formal courtroom setting. 

Arbitration provides divorcing couples with greater control over the process, potentially reducing conflict and expediting the resolution. While it may not suit every divorce situation, arbitration can offer a quicker and less adversarial path to settling disputes and finalizing the divorce.

Even if a divorce is contested initially, negotiation can still be utilized to settle some or all of the disputed issues outside of court.

A contested divorce is a legal process in which spouses cannot agree on the terms of their divorce, leading to disputes that require resolution by the court. However, there are alternative dispute resolution methods that can help couples avoid the contentious nature of a contested divorce and achieve more amicable solutions. A qualified divorce lawyer can help you fight for a fair and just resolution of the issues that arise when a marriage comes to an end. Visit https://thedavaloslawfirm.com/divorce-attorney-tracy-ca/ to schedule your consultation with an attorney.