Quick Overview of Uncontested Divorce
What is an Uncontested Divorce?
When filing for divorce, couples do not necessarily have to go through an expensive, burdensome, and contentious process. If divorcees are willing to end their marriage amicably and reach an agreement regarding the divorce-related aspects, they can file for uncontested marriage dissolution.
In an uncontested divorce, spouses outline everything they have agreed upon in a divorce settlement agreement (or another form depending on the state), covering such things as:
- Property division.
- Debt division.
- Child support
- Physical and legal custody.
- Visitation rights.
How is Uncontested Divorce with Children Finalized?
If couples are successful in agreeing on all the aspects mentioned above, to finalize their divorce, the filing spouse must:
- Bring their agreement to a court along with a few other documents.
- Serve the other spouse with copies of the paperwork.
- Visit a short hearing for a judge to sign off on it in accordance with their local court’s procedures. A judge will likely respect the wishes of the spouses on all issues, except those regarding the children if they believe that parental decisions were not made in the kids' best interests.
How are the Best Interests of Children Determined?
For issues regarding children, such as child support and custody, the judge may use their discretion and intervene to alter the agreement where doing so would be in the best interests of the child. The judge will look at a number of factors in determining the best interests of the child, including:
- The wishes and age of the child.
- The wishes of the parent.
- Religious and cultural beliefs of the parties.
- Whether the child would have to move homes or schools.
- Whether the home environment of the child is safe from abuse, among any other relevant factors.
How is Child Custody Handled in an Uncontested Divorce?
In an uncontested divorce, the couple will have to decide on issues of both legal and physical custody over their kids under 18 years of age.
Legal custody refers to the power of parents to make decisions on the child’s behalf. Decisions made by parents with legal custody include but are not limited to:
- Non-emergency medical decisions.
- Education choices.
- Religious or extracurricular activities.
In most situations, parents will retain joint legal custody, as it is the preferred option for most courts. When it is in the best interest of a child, one of the parents may have sole legal custody, for example, if the other party is mentally incapable of making sound decisions or is abusive towards a kid.
Even where the parents retain joint legal custody, conflicts can still occur. Spouses may wish to establish a "tie-breaker" when certain issues come up, and they cannot come to an agreement after a genuine discourse. In this case, having a tie-breaker on a particular aspect would imply having the final say regarding specific questions. For example, one spouse may have a tie-breaker for all education-related issues, while the other one - for all the medical problems.
Physical custody determines where the child primarily lives and which parent will be the primary caregiver. One parent may have sole responsibility for their child, retaining “primary/sole physical custody,” or exes may share such a responsibility if they are awarded “joint physical custody.”
- In a primary physical custody arrangement, one spouse maintains physical custody of the kid for a majority of the time, and the other one has “secondary physical custody.” A typical example is where one parent takes the child every Wednesday night and every other weekend.
- In a joint physical custody arrangement, parents share physical custody over the kid. However, it does not necessarily mean that the child will split their time 50/50 with each parent, although the split should be as close to being equal as possible.
Visitation rights give the parent without physical custody an opportunity to see their child on a regularly scheduled basis as agreed upon by the spouses in an uncontested divorce.
A non-custodial parent will rarely be denied visitation unless, under specific circumstances, it would be best for a kid. Further, if visitation provisions are clearly one-sided and unfair, a judge may intervene to alter the agreement so that it reflects the best interests of the child.
Other Child-Related Aspects
In the divorce agreement, spouses may also need to include specific provisions governing issues likely to arise such as how far a parent can move from their current location, where the drop-off point will be when exchanging children, how will the transportation be arranged, or which insurance plan the child will be listed under.
It is crucial to keep in mind that courts value the stability in agreements regarding children as it is in their best interests. Therefore, modifying custody and visitation orders will be difficult, and parents will have to show a substantial change in circumstances to justify a change.
Determining Child Support Payments for an Uncontested Divorce
How is Child Support Determined?
It is important to note that:
- Spouses themselves may negotiate on child support payments that the non-custodial parent will be required to pay.
- It is better to use a child support calculator when determining the exact sum if it is available in the state where divorcees plan to file.
- The custodial arrangement chosen by the parents or the court will have an effect on the sum of child support payments.
- Other circumstances, such as one of the parents being in the military, will also be considered when determining child support payments.
- The payments will be made on a regularly scheduled, usually monthly, basis to cover childcare costs until the kid reaches the age of majority, usually 18.
- Payment arrangements may last longer when spouses agree to it. For example, a child's college graduation date may be listed as the final one for making the payments. Also, if the kid is disabled, child support obligations may continue past the age of majority.
Can a Judge Modify a Child Support Agreement?
As with custody and visitation arrangements, a judge will intervene when doing so would be in the best interests of the child or where the parents cannot reach an agreement on their own.
Where a judge chooses to intervene, they will often look at an algorithm established in their jurisdiction to determine child support payments. Such an algorithm usually considers the income of both parents and the standard of living of the child prior to the divorce. The court will not want to subject the child to a drastically lower standard of living where the non-custodial parent has the means to pay child support.
Can a Child Support Agreement Be Changed Later?
Once implemented, child support arrangements are difficult to amend. The parent seeking to modify the agreement will have to show a substantial change in circumstances, such as a severe loss in income or an inability to work due to a new injury or disability. It should be noted that a voluntary reduction in income will not be enough to justify a modification for a lower child support payment.
Couples following through with an uncontested divorce have a lot of aspects to consider when crafting their agreements. While it may seem overwhelming at first, the benefits of an uncontested divorce can be extremely positive as spouses will spend less time in court, have less legal fees, and will be more likely to maintain an amicable relationship with their spouse and, therefore, a functional co-parenting relationship.