In divorce proceedings, when the spouses are unable or unwilling to agree on one or more key issues to finalize the divorce and terminate the marriage, the court must now adjudicate the dispute and settle all the issues, such as equitable distribution of the marital property, child custody, child support or spousal maintenance (alimony). This is the essence of a contested divorce, as opposed to an uncontested divorce where both spouses agree on all of these issues.
Contested divorce proceedings take much longer, and sometimes can drag on for years, depending on the complexity of the case, and involve greater stress and increased legal fees.
The spouses must engage in numerous procedures during the case, including hiring competent legal counsel, attending all court hearings including an initial preliminary conference with the judge to determine if a settlement can be reached, engage in discovery such as exchanging sworn Statements of Net Worth which list details of their assets and liabilities, pre-trial legal motions, settlement proposals and negotiations between the parties and legal counsel.
In the event that the spouses cannot reach a settlement, a trial is scheduled to finally bring the matter to a conclusion. The court will make a final decision based on what it considers to be fair, taking numerous factors into account, such as the best interests of the children, the length of the marriage, age and health of the spouses, marital assets, the earnings capacity of each spouse, and tax implications.