The Five Kinds of Divorce Cases: Is One Yours?

The Five Kinds of Divorce Cases: Is One Yours?

The desire to be separate from your partner is the main reason for any divorce. While many factors and considerations lead up to the divorce, that one big goal generally stays the same. Additionally, while there is one main goal to a divorce, there are five ways to accomplish that goal or five common divorce cases. These are an uncontested divorce, contested divorce, collaborative divorce, default divorce, and summary divorce.

This may seem overly complicated when all divorces share the same goal. However, knowing what profile your divorce is will help you better navigate the process. To that end, this article will give you insight into the five kinds of divorce cases so you understand which one is yours.

Divorce Type versus Divorce Case

A divorce case should be distinguished from different divorce types. The type of divorce you choose addresses the method in which you go about the divorce or the mechanics behind how the divorce process works. It will also give you options for how to proceed with your divorce. This includes the traditional lawyer-led model, mediation, a collaborative model, or a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) divorce. To learn more about the 4 different types of divorce, check out this article that explains the specific models.

A divorce case is broader and more theoretical in nature. It describes the general characteristic of your divorce and what that entails. It does not account for the concrete steps within the categorization. Knowing your divorce case will help you determine what type of divorce is available to you going forward.

1. Uncontested Divorce

An uncontested divorce is one in which you and your husband are (ultimately) in total agreement on all aspects of your divorce. You will work together outside of the walls of the courthouse to file paperwork and gather information because you already agree on the specific outcomes of every part of the process. This can be very complicated, as ending a marriage involves many emotionally charged pieces. An uncontested divorce has agreed upon answers on the issues of child support, child custody, alimony, and division of property.

If you and your spouse agree (or will eventually agree) on all the key details of your divorce, it is likely considered uncontested.

An uncontested divorce will not go to court, saving you both time and money. Uncontested divorces are always cheaper than highly contentious contested divorces. They also allow you the opportunity to explore different ways to proceed in the divorce process and give you more flexibility in choosing the type of divorce that works for you.

2. Contested Divorce

Another common type of divorce is a contested divorce. A contested divorce is one in which you and your husband don’t agree on all the critical issues in the divorce. You may disagree on only one issue or all issues stated above. Either way, it will be up to a judge to settle the disagreements, because you two cannot come to terms. A contested divorce usually requires attorneys for both you and your partner to prepare your court case. This type of divorce is most often seen in the media because it has the potential to be contentious and dramatic. For more on this, read “What is a Contested Divorce?”

Contested divorces are the costliest type of divorce.

The cost of a contested divorce can range greatly, with the United States average being $15,000. This generally accounts for attorney’s fees, court costs, real estate appraisers, and other experts the court might need. The price will, of course, fluctuate based on the complexity of your case and how many issues are being contested. Some contested hearings do not need a trial because the judge can solve any disputes through quicker hearings. In the most extreme (and costly) cases, your divorce might go to a full trial, where your lawyer will present all the evidence and arguments she has collected, and the judge will give a final decision.

3. Collaborative Divorce

A collaborative divorce is one in which the couple needs some legal help in navigating the terms of their divorce, but it is handled completely outside of the courtroom. A mix of lawyers and mediators will help you and your spouse come to an agreement in a problem-solving fashion. In a collaborative divorce, both parties will hire their collaborative divorce attorney specializing in, or having experience in, alternate dispute resolution. This means that they understand what collaborative divorce is and have the tools to lead you through it. You and your attorney will work with your spouse and his attorney to settle the issues through mediation.

The goal of the collaborative model is to take away the big fight with “winners and losers” that is seen in court and instead aim to problem solve together civilly. A collaborative divorce can be amicable, as the goal is to avoid litigation and solve issues together. To learn more about the different types of amicable divorces, check out this article on amicable divorces and how to ensure you have one.

A collaborative divorce can help you, and your spouse keep familial peace at the forefront of your divorce. A collaborative divorce model is often used when the couple can work together and if there are children involved. This is because it puts the family at the center of the divorce. It ensures that the child will not have to be involved in a stressful court setting. Collaborative divorces tend to cost less than litigation and court battles but sometimes more than a usual uncontested divorce. The complexity of the case will determine the cost of a collaborative divorce.

In some cases, you might need to bring in a team of experts, like therapists, financial experts, or child psychologists, to reach a mutual agreement. Adding experts to a case will significantly increase the overall cost. And keep in mind, if you and your spouse (and the experts) cannot come to an agreement on the terms of your divorce, and you must abandon the collaborative divorce process, you will have to abandon all the professionals you’ve hired and start fresh with new counsel.

4. Default Divorce

A default divorce is when your husband (the respondent) does not respond to your petition within the appropriate time frame. It is technically considered an uncontested divorce where your spouse has foregone his chance to participate in the proceedings. This usually means that the other spouse is unreachable by the court. The court must make a genuine effort to locate the other party, but if they cannot, or your spouse refuses to participate, the divorce will go through as a default. In this scenario the court will usually grant your requests related to the divorce.

5. Summary Divorce

Summary divorce is not a traditional divorce. If your marriage fits certain (usually time and complexity related) requirements, then you may qualify for a simplified summary divorce. It is a quicker process with less paperwork, fewer court appearances, and less overall involvement for you and your spouse. That being said, very stringent standards must apply for your marriage to qualify for a summary divorce.

For a Summary Divorce, the actual eligibility requirements will vary state-to-state, so make sure to research your specific state. Generally, a summary divorce requires a short marriage (around five years or less), no minor children, no real property (real estate), little to no marital property (all assets aside from land), little to no separate property, and neither spouse is looking to receive alimony.

If your marriage fits these tight qualifications, then a summary divorce might save you time and money.


Understanding the different divorce cases is important in classifying your divorce. If you can classify your divorce, then you are more likely to understand the upcoming process, what professionals to use, how to budget for the divorce, and how to manage your expectations.  This will lead to fewer surprises and more peace of mind.


Elizabeth Newland is a third-year law student in Chicago who is committed to children and family rights. She aims to work in a family-related non-profit firm after graduation. 

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  1. Charlotte Fleet on January 12, 2023 at 18:11

    Thanks for explaining how collaborative divorces are settled through mediation. My older sister is getting a divorce from her spouse and wants the process to be collaborative. I’ll help her search for a reliable, neutral mediator to handle her divorce over the next couple of months.

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