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How to get an uncontested divorce


1. Introduction

An uncontested divorce is a type of divorce where couples agree to negotiate and settle their divorce issues outside of court. For this reason, uncontested divorces are overall much quicker and less expensive than a contested divorce.

Choosing uncontested divorce does not necessarily mean your divorce will be easy, or that you will agree on all points at the time you file for divorce. But it does mean that you plan to eventually come to a fair agreement—either by working with each other, a mediator, or your attorneys.

Here, we'll walk you through the uncontested divorce process, including the steps you'll need to complete, the decisions you'll need to make, and what to expect once your divorce is final.

Divorce overview
Uncontested divorceContested divorce
Shorter waiting periodLonger waiting period
Less expensiveMore expensive
You can agree on all issues outside of courtThe court must decide on 1 or more issues for you
Lawyers offer flat fee servicesLawyers charge by the hour
Tip: Keep in mind that where you live will determine the details and requirements of your divorce process, including the types of uncontested divorce available. The laws governing divorce vary state-to-state, and your local courts may require additional steps, or forms, to complete the process.
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Get free attorney tips and advice for every step of the divorce process in our 10-part series.

2. Before you start

Before you start your divorce, you will want to discuss the process with your spouse to determine if uncontested divorce is right for you and decide whether to work with an attorney. In this section, learn how long the process might take in your state, how much it may cost, and how an attorney can help.

How long will it take?

0–12 months

Average minimum time to complete

See the minimum time to complete a divorce in your state
Minimum time to complete: 30 days

Once you file for a typical uncontested divorce, most states require you to wait for a specific period of time before the divorce becomes final. In states without a waiting period, it's possible to complete your divorce in just a few weeks, while in others, you may need to wait up to a year. Generally, the average waiting period is 60 days.

Step 1
File the petition.
Step 2 - < 30 days
Notify spouse. Spouse files response.
Step 3 - Avg. 60 days
Provide disclosures and create your settlement agreement.
Step 4
Go to hearing. Get divorced.

Do I need a divorce lawyer?

Even if you and your spouse agree on all issues, a divorce lawyer can help you complete your agreement quickly and accurately. Many divorce attorneys have years of experience handling similar cases. This means they're able to help clients get through the process more efficiently than if they were to go it alone. Keep in mind that a divorce attorney can:

Answer your divorce questions

  • Decide if uncontested divorce is right for you
  • Help you determine which type of uncontested divorce to file for
  • Determine which local court you will file with
  • Determine which forms you'll need to fill out

Help you with your divorce paperwork

  • File your petition for divorce
  • Serve your spouse with notice of the divorce filing
  • Review some or all of your divorce paperwork
  • Draft your divorce settlement agreement and parenting plan
  • Ensure that your paperwork is filed correctly

Help you come to an agreement

  • Negotiate terms with your spouse's attorney
  • Assist in finding a mediator to work with you and your spouse

How much will it cost?
See the minimum filing fee in your state
Minimum filing fee: $154

This is the fee paid in order to start the divorce with the court. These fees vary greatly between counties and states but fall between $50 and $400. You can find the specific fee amount by contacting your local court or visiting their website.


Average total attorney fee for uncontested divorce

Divorce lawyers typically work at an hourly or flat rate. The cost of your divorce will depend on how complex your divorce is, and how much time your lawyer will need to spend on your case.

Hourly rate: Common if you share significant assets, have children, or need help negotiating. You typically pay the attorney a large deposit upfront (called a retainer) and the attorney bills you for the total number of hours spent on your case. The average lawyer fee ranges from $250 to $350 an hour.

Flat rate: Common for straightforward, uncontested divorce cases with or without children. You pay the attorney a one-time fee for a specific amount of work

In addition to legal fees, your final settlement will also affect the total cost of your divorce. This will include your divided assets and debts, as well as any ongoing child support or alimony payments. To estimate the total cost of your divorce, use the Avvo divorce and alimony calculator.

3. File the petition

Once you are confident that you’re ready to start the divorce process, you'll need to file a divorce petition with your local court. This form notifies the court that you and your spouse are getting a divorce. In this section, learn where and how to start your divorce.

File in the state you live in, not where you were married

You will file for divorce in the state where you currently live, even if you were initially married in another state. Keep in mind that you must meet your state’s minimum residency requirements before you are able to file. This means that you must live in the state for a certain period of time before you are eligible to divorce there, usually somewhere between 2 and 12 months. This requirement may be longer if you have children.

To be eligible to file in California, for example, you must have lived in the state for at least 6 months and within your county for at least 3 months.

6 months

Average residency requirement

See your state's residency requirement
Residency requirement: 6 months

Once you've confirmed your eligibility, you will file your initial divorce paperwork with the court and serve the divorce papers to your spouse.

File the petition with the court

Petitions will vary between jurisdictions, but they typically ask for the same type of information. As the person filling out the form, you are the petitioner, and your spouse is the respondent. In the petition, you will list basic facts about your marriage, including any children you have, property you own, and any debts you owe.

In some states, the petition may ask you to list your reason, or grounds, for filing divorce. All states have a no-fault divorce option, meaning neither you nor your spouse is legally to blame for ending the marriage. To use the no-fault option, you can cite "irreconcilable differences" as the grounds for divorce. This just means that you and your spouse are certain that you longer want to be married. Most couples choose this option, as it is the quickest and least expensive way to get a divorce.

The petition may also ask you to propose how you'd like to settle property division, child custody, visitation, and other issues. Compromising on these issues is often the most complicated part of a divorce. So while these terms are not yet legally binding, they serve as a starting point for both parties to discuss their desired outcomes.

Notify your spouse

After the petition is filed, you have a certain number of days to legally notify your spouse of the impending divorce with a summons. Usually, you'll need to do it within 30 days. Once the notice is served, your spouse will have an opportunity to respond, proving that they are aware of the impending divorce.

Tip: In states offering some form of simplified divorce or summary dissolution, you might file a joint petition. This allows you and your spouse file the initial divorce paperwork together, saving you the extra time and fees normally required to serve the paperwork and file a response.

4. Plan your agreement

Now that your divorce is underway, you and your spouse will need to begin the final divorce paperwork you will eventually submit to the court. In this section, learn what kind of information you'll need to include in your disclosure forms and settlement agreement, including the key decisions to make with your spouse.

Disclose and exchange information

Once your petition is filed, you will need to provide information to your spouse and the court regarding everything you own and are responsible for. This includes:

  • Property—real estate, vehicles, furniture
  • Finances—retirement accounts, savings, investments, debts
  • Any minor children

This information is typically exchanged between the spouses, and also filed with the court along with corresponding court forms. From here, you and your spouse can get to work drafting your settlement agreement and other forms to finalize your divorce decisions.

Divide property

Property division laws vary across states, but in an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse agree on how to divide your shared assets. Before the decisions become final, a judge will review your agreement to ensure that it is truly fair to both parties.

In many instances, one spouse may take ownership of property in exchange for a portion of its value. For example, if one spouse wants to keep the marital home, they may give their spouse 50% of the home’s value in exchange for the deed.

Determine responsibilities
Child custody, support, and visitation

Unlike property division laws, states have very strict rules on how children must be treated in a divorce. If you have minor children, you'll need to submit a parenting plan as part of your settlement agreement.


Also called spousal support, alimony is the series of payments one spouse makes to the other after the marriage ends. Alimony helps a spouse maintain a similar standard of living until they are able to fully support themselves. The laws in your state will dictate whether spousal support is available, and will help determine how long a former spouse is eligible to receive support.

Factors that influence alimony amounts:

  • Income disparity between spouses
  • Each spouse's future ability to earn
  • Length of the marriage
  • Standard of living during the marriage
  • Which parent has custody (if applicable)
  • Other available means of support
Tip: If you wish to change your last name once the divorce becomes final, you can include that information in your divorce paperwork too.

5. Negotiate the terms

Even if you divorce is amicable, you may still disagree on certain aspects of your divorce—especially when it comes to determining who gets custody, spousal support, or dividing your property. Luckily, many couples are able to arrive at an agreement outside of court with the help of a mediator.

A mediator is a neutral third party who meets with you, your spouse, and your separate attorneys to help facilitate a discussion. The mediator is not there to offer legal advice. Instead, they facilitate a discussion, so you and your spouse can come to a fair agreement.

On average, mediator fees start at $100 an hour, but will range widely depending on their location and experience. Mediation is completely optional and only lasts as long as it takes for you to come to an agreement. For many couples, this process takes around 4 to 6 hours total, spread across multiple sessions.

After this, one of your attorneys will prepare your divorce settlement paperwork based on your mutual decisions, and the other attorney will review it.

If you are unable to come to an agreement with the help of a mediator, you and your spouse's attorneys will negotiate on your behalf. But if, after months of negotiation, you still cannot come to an agreement, your divorce becomes contested. This means a judge will need to make the final decision through a series of court hearings. Contested divorce quickly become expensive, as they often take over a year to resolve.

6. Finalize the divorce

After you come to an agreement on all issues, you can communicate your decisions to your divorce attorney. Then, they will start preparing your settlement agreement—the paperwork to finalize your divorce. If you prefer to draft your agreements yourself, you can find most settlement agreements or divorce decree forms at your local courthouse or on their website.

Before you are able to submit your final divorce paperwork, you must wait the minimum number of days required by your state. This waiting period begins the day you file the divorce petition, and usually lasts a few months.

60 days

Average divorce waiting period

See your state's minimum waiting period
Divorce waiting period: 30 days

After the waiting period has passed, you'll submit your final divorce settlement agreement and attend your court date, called a hearing. During the hearing, you will present your divorce paperwork to the judge for review.

  • Who needs to attend? In some cases, only the petitioner needs to attend, but it's usually a good idea for both of you to be there, in case the judge has questions about your agreement.

  • What should I wear? Many attorneys recommend business-casual attire. Opt for a button down shirt and slacks in place of jeans or sneakers.

  • How long will it take? Uncontested divorce hearings are quick and procedural. Most are completed within 10 minutes and do not require a lawyer to be present.

Once the judge has signed off on your paperwork, you will file it with the court clerk, and will receive paperwork that makes your divorce final.

Next steps

When your divorce is finalized, you should update any personal financial records to reflect your new single status. Documents that you've signed in the past may make reference to your status as a married individual, including:

  • Car titles
  • Wills
  • Insurance policies
  • Property deeds
  • Retirement plans
Thinking about divorce?
Get free attorney tips and advice for every step of the divorce process in our 10-part series.