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9 Types of Divorce, Explained

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With more than 800,000 divorces each year, according to Divorce Mag, it’s unlikely any two would be the same. Every couple approaches divorce differently, meaning that some will need third-party intervention, while others can be resolved amicably amongst spouses. There are several types of divorce, all of which are handled uniquely.  

To help you understand each type of divorce and their differences, DivorceForce developed this useful breakdown. 



Neither party disputes the divorce and the terms in an uncontested divorce. Both parties reach agreements on the major issues including child custody and support, property distribution, and alimony either on their own or through legal representatives. The couple signs a marital settlement agreement, which is then presented to the court, and the divorce is finalized with a decree. This type of divorce is the simplest, requiring the least time and money. It’s also unlikely you’ll need to make a court appearance.



On the opposite side of the spectrum, the contested divorce is the most expensive and mentally exhausting. Typically stemming from a child custody dispute of marital property disagreement, it involves the intervention of a judge or jury to determine the settlement terms. Because the relationship is so contentious, all attempts without the courts generally fail. Contested divorces involve hearings, motions, a trial, a discovery process, subpoenas, and delays, drawing out the divorce process for an extended period of time. 



This type of divorce is granted when one spouse files for divorce but the other never responds. Default divorces typically occur when one spouse leaves without reason, never returns, or cannot be found. 



Similar to an uncontested divorce, the collaborative divorce typically avoids trial. Each party hires a lawyer who attempts to settle the case outside the courtroom. To be successful, both parties must be prepared to cooperate, disclose all information, and agree to fair negotiations. If spouses are unable to come to an agreement, they must withdraw their attorneys and hire new legal representatives to take the case to trial.



In this form of divorce, the parties have cited the reason for the split as either “irreconcilable differences,” “incompatibility” or “irremediable breakdown of the marriage,” “irretrievably broken.” Other than this language, no further proof of fault by one spouse is required. All states are no-fault states, meaning they will accept these reasonings. 



Several states allow at-fault divorces, during which the petitioner states a specific reason for the divorce. The case typically cites adultery, cruelty, verbal and physical abuse, abandonment, drug use, or similar grounds. Although requiring a higher burden of proof, it can lead to a potential advantage in the settlement process. For instance, if it’s proven one parent abuses drugs, this can help the other spouse’s child custody case. 



If a divorce gets stuck in the court system or a couple is interested in reaching an agreement outside of court but can’t reach a settlement, they’ll call an arbitrator. Typically a private judge, this neutral third party will listen to both sides and declare a ruling, similar to in court. Arbitration ensures the divorce is confidential, quick, and less costly. 



When both parties can’t seem to agree on major issues but are generally civil with one another, they’ll enlist a mediator. This neutral third-party listens to each spouse and suggests solutions, offering guidance toward a resolution. However, the mediator does not give legal advice or make the final decision. They advocate for both parties and play a role in drafting the final agreement, but ultimately, the judge will have final say. A mediator gives the couple greater control over the divorce, enabling discussions throughout the process and greater likelihood that both parties will be content with the outcome. Typically, mediation is less expensive, quicker, and more confidential than litigation. 



This option is generally for couples who have no significant assets or children, enabling a streamlined and quick process. Divorces can be eligible if the couple has been married for a short period of time—typically five to eight years—they don’t have minor children from the marriage, they don’t have significant real or personal property, and both agree to forfeit rights to spousal support. In a summary divorce, both parties fill out and file several forms according to their states’ rules. Overall, this type of dissolution results in less paperwork, time, and court appearances.

If you’re in need of a legal representation or a mediator, check out DivorceForcePRO! Our database houses professionals across the nation. Use the search bar to type in either “lawyer” or “mediator” and then select your state. You’ll receive a list of experts right near you. Or, from the DivorceForcePro page, simply select “Legal.” You can filter your results down by type of representation and state.

Written by Gregory C. Frank, Founder & CEO, DivorceForce

Gregory C. Frank is the CEO and Founder of DivorceForce.

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