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First video in an 11 part series of tutorial videos on how to handle a contested divorce in California. This first video is an introduction to contested divorce cases.

At the start of a divorce, how do you know if you are going to have an uncontested case, a true default case, or a contested case?

A lot of times you don’t know. Sometimes, when you are about to start a divorce, your spouse will be cooperative. Perhaps they are cooperative because they are still hoping that there will be a reconciliation. Perhaps they are cooperative at the start of the divorce, but then get angry when they find out how much support they are going to owe or they find out an asset they thought was going to community property is actually your separate property. Perhaps they are cooperative at the start of the divorce, but once you show up with a new girlfriend or boyfriend, things blow up. There are any number of reasons why a divorce case is going to be contested, rather than uncontested. In divorces, emotions can be volatile. As divorce lawyers, we frequently see good people at their worst.

The way you start the divorce can influence whether your case is going to be uncontested or contested. If you start the divorce by filing with the court an ex-parte motion to kick your spouse out of the family home and also seek a supervised visitation child custody order, then the case is probably going to be a contested case. If you start the case in attack mode, you should expect your spouse or his or her lawyer to respond in kind.

Before you start your case with an aggressive assault approach, think about a more gentle approach. Contact your spouse, in person if possible or at least by email, and make the contact using a tone that will encourage settlement. See if your spouse is willing to participate in settlement discussions, either directly with you or by using a mediator. If your spouse refuses to participate in reasonable settlement discussions, then you are obviously going to at least start the divorce as a contested case.

If the case starts as a contested case, that does not mean you are going to end up in trial. It may take a year or longer to get to trial and there will be any number of court appearances along the way, including a settlement conference at the courthouse. At any point before you get to trial, you may be able to reach a settlement agreement with your spouse. Very few cases actually go to trial.

If you are never able to negotiate a settlement with your spouse, then your case will go to trial. At trial, you and your spouse will present evidence, usually in the form of testimony and the presentation of documents. At trial, you and your spouse will make arguments to the trial judge, trying to convince the judge why the judge should rule in your favor. At the end of the trial, the judge will decide all of the disputed issues.

Processing a contested divorce case differs from processing an uncontested divorce case, but there are also a lot of similarities. In order to process a contested case, you need to follow most of the same procedures and fill out most of the same court forms described and explained in our earlier videos on uncontested divorces.

Almost all of the information about court forms and court procedures that we went over in the earlier videos also applies to “contested” divorce cases.

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