A contested Divorce is one where the Defendant files an Answer to the complaint for divorce.  The Defendant could also file a counterclaim for divorce along with the Answer.   An uncontested divorce is one where the Defendant does not file an Answer to the Complaint or enter an appearance in the case at all.  If the case is uncontested, you will only need to appear in court one time for the final “merits” hearing or “final trial.” 

If the Defendant files an Answer to the Complaint (or Answer and Counterclaim) and the matter becomes contested, the case will be moved to the “contested docket” and there will now be multiple court appearances.  The court will schedule (1) a pre-trial at the court and (2) the final trial.

The pre-trial is where both parties and their respective counsel meet with the judge in his or her chambers in order to discuss the particulars of the case (what is being disputed, what the parties are in agreement as to, whether the case is likely to settle, what issues will be litigated, etc.).   The pre-trial is not conducted in the courtroom or on the record, but is more of an informal meeting.

After the pre-trial is concluded, the parties will usually continue to negotiate a settlement of the case, often based upon feedback from the judge as to how to resolve the remaining disputed matters.  If the parties do come to an agreement as to all issues, the final trial will consist simply of the parties agreeing on the record that the court has jurisdiction and that each voluntarily entered into the proposed agreement, that each find it fair and equitable, and that each is requesting the court adopt the agreement as part of the final decree of divorce.

If the parties are unable to reach an agreement as to all issues (say, for instance, the parties cannot agree on child custody or the amount and duration of spousal support) then all remaining disputed issues will have to be litigated at the final trial.  Both parties will be able to call witnesses and introduce other forms of evidence, such as school records, medical records, etc. in an effort to prove he or she should prevail on the disputed issue(s).  Divorce trials are normally scheduled for an entire day, but depending on how much testimony will be taken on the record, the case could last for several days.

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