Divorce can be a difficult or traumatic experience, particularly if the divorce becomes contested and the parties cannot agree, but it does not matter if the divorce is contested or uncontested; either can leave people emotionally, physically, and financially exhausted. Whether to divorce is a difficult and personal choice to make for many reasons, but once the decision is made or the parties can simply no longer live together as husband and wife, there is no other option but to move forward with a divorce, with the help of an experienced divorce attorney.
A contested divorce can be quite a lengthy process. Unlike an uncontested, or mutually agreed divorce which may be completed in as little as two (2) to six (6) months, a contested divorce can take a year or more. The more disputes that exist between the parties, the more time it takes to complete the divorce process. Also the higher net worth people have accumulated, the more assets people have to fight over so the divorce process most of the time takes longer to complete.
A divorce becomes contested when the spouses are unable to agree to the terms of the divorce and the Court must step-in and resolve the problems. Some common issues in a contested divorce may include:
- Alimony: Rarely can spouses agree to the terms of alimony or spousal support. The Court must decide whether a party is entitled to alimony and if so, then the Court will determine what type of alimony, the amount of alimony to be paid, and the duration of the alimony payments.
- Who is at fault? A contested divorce may become a “blame game” and the Court must then become involved and determine which spouse is at fault and on what legal grounds the other spouse may be granted a divorce.
- Temporary Financial Support: The Court may award a spouse temporary support, or pendente lite support while the divorce is still pending. The goal of any temporary support will be to maintain the status quo until the divorce can be finalized.
- Property: The Court must determine the division of all of the marital property and assets of the parties. This may include real property such as a home or land or personal property such as vehicles, furniture and household goods, and even pets. The Court will also divide up the other assets of the parties including their bank accounts, retirement accounts, pensions, investments, and any other assets gained during the marriage.
- Debts: The Court must divide all of the debts incurred during the marriage, including mortgages and car notes, credit cards, and any other debts owed by the spouses.
- Retirement accounts & pension plans: The Court must divide all of the retirement accounts or pension plans that incurred during the marriage.
If the divorcing couple has minor children then there are even more possibly contentious issues in a contested divorce. These issues can include:
- Which parent will be the primary residential parent?
- Parenting time and the visitation schedule.
- Child Support.
- Which parent must provide medical, dental, and vision insurance for the children and how any expenses and costs not covered by insurance will be paid or divided between the parents?
- Which parent will be responsible for making major decisions for the children such as non-emergency healthcare, education, religious upbringing, or extracurricular activities?
The Court will take all measures necessary in each divorce case to allow the parties to resolve their disputes without resorting to a contested divorce trial. In Tennessee, every divorce must go through mediation where a mediator tries to help the parties resolve their disputes amicably. If the parties reach an agreement in mediation, then the terms of their agreement are often reduced to a Marital Dissolution Agreement and Permanent Parenting Plan (in cases with minor children) and those agreements are submitted to the Court for approval. If the parties disputes cannot be solved by mediation, then the issues will be tried in court before a judge and the judge will decide all of the contested issues for the parties. Research has shown that parties who are able to resolve their disputes in mediation and reach an agreement are much more likely to follow that mediated agreement in the future than those subject to a trial and court order and they are much less likely to end up back in court in the future with further disputes.