Ways to Divorce: How Many Different Divorce Types Are There?

By:
Michael Tierney
Updated
August 24, 2022

Divorce is a legal proceeding that many claim to understand. Despite many people citing knowledge of divorce, very few are aware of just how complicated a divorce can be.

One of the most common misconceptions about divorce is that it is a cookie-cutter proceeding that only takes one form. In reality, a divorce can take many forms and names, each different from the last by how they are litigated. The different types of divorce are not universally available to everyone seeking to separate and divorce their spouse. Rather, the circumstances surrounding the divorce and the disposition of each spouse determines which type you qualify for. Some divorce types are also simpler than others.

Knowing that different types of divorce exist will only take you so far. Understanding the different types and how they will affect you is paramount to navigating any legal requirements. The differing divorce types only apply to your situation if your particular situation allows for it.

If you attempt to seek out a specific type of divorce, you might be disappointed since it relies on how you and your spouse feel and your respective situations. However, some divorce types can be pursued specifically if you can convince your spouse to agree and if there are no additional obstacles.

Solution In the world of divorce law, there are currently eight distinct types of divorce.

1. Summary Divorce

The first type of divorce is a summary divorce.

Solution Summary divorces, also known as simplified divorce, are one of the easiest divorce variants available. Summary divorces have very little paperwork involved and are often completed very quickly. This makes summary divorce one of the only kinds of divorce where a lawyer is not necessary. While you retain the right to waive an attorney for your divorce, most other types are best pursued with professional aid. The lack of paperwork in a summary divorce renders an attorney virtually unnecessary. You can get the little paperwork you need by visiting your state's court website or going to your local family court clerk's office.

While a summary divorce is extremely simple, you must meet specific criteria to qualify for one.

A Divorce Filing

Summary divorces are only available to couples who:

  • Were married for five years or less.
  • Do not own much personal property.
  • Do not share a child.
  • Do not have significant debts for which you are jointly responsible.

If you meet the above criteria, you still must get your spouse to agree to the divorce and file your paperwork together. A summary divorce is meant to terminate a marriage where there is little that needs to be divided between you and your future ex. If your spouse refuses the divorce or if your relationship does not meet the necessary criteria, a summary divorce will be unavailable to you.

2. Uncontested Divorce

The next-best thing compared to a summary divorce is an uncontested divorce.

Solution As the name implies, an uncontested divorce is a process that your spouse does not oppose. Rather, you and your spouse negotiate the necessary divisions of property and visitation together before submitting any finalized divorce paperwork.

An Uncontested Divorce

Specifically, you and your spouse would sit down and negotiate:

  • Child Custody
  • Child Visitation
  • Child Support
  • Alimony
  • Division of Property

Once you have agreed to each of these in a way that is fair to both parties, you will draw up a property settlement agreement. Such agreements are written contracts that outline what was agreed upon and are signed by both parties. After everything is settled, you can officially file for divorce with the court and attend the obligatory hearing. Fortunately, uncontested divorces are usually fast-tracked, and you could resolve your divorce in a fraction of the normal time. Some states even forgo court appearances in favor of affidavits filed with the court clerk.

3. Default Divorce

A default divorce is not a likely scenario for most people, but it can occur depending on your spouse.

Solution A default divorce happens when you file for divorce, but your spouse fails to make an appearance or even respond to the summons. A common example is when a spouse leaves the state or country and cannot be located despite your best efforts. Fortunately, just because your spouse is not acknowledging the divorce summons does not mean you cannot successfully divorce them. From then on, it is dependent on you and your adherence to the laws of your state.

If you comply with all the requirements and laws of your state regarding divorce, a judge can authorize the termination of your marriage. You can do this despite your spouse not participating in the proceedings. While this can be helpful, a default divorce is not a perfect solution.

Person Waiting Out Time

While it is true your spouse is not there to oppose the terms laid out in your petition for divorce, it can be overturned if your spouse responds after the judgment is rendered. However, your spouse must have a valid reason for not responding to the previous summons.

4. Contested Divorce

The most common and possibly the most draining type of divorce is a contested divorce.

While an uncontested divorce is the preferred option for most couples, not everyone is willing to take their marriage ending lying down. If your spouse is opposed to one or more of the requests in your divorce petition and does not yield, your divorce could quickly become a judge's decision rather than you or your spouse. Contested divorces are also time-consuming and stressful, almost exclusively requiring attorneys to navigate.

Spouse Contesting Divorce

Solution In a contested divorce, you must exchange financial information, attend hearings, and hammer out the settlement negotiations. These talks can take a long time if you or your spouse refuse to budge on certain details. In the end, you must agree with your spouse via your attorneys and the judge's discretion, or there will be a court hearing to remove control completely. Because a court trial removes the power from the couple, most contested divorces settle before a trial becomes necessary.

A contested divorce is also complicated when your spouse is a danger to you since they will be more inclined to fight harder.

5. Fault and No-Fault Divorce

This category is less about the type of divorce and more focused on the driving force of the separation. The reason you are getting divorced impacts who has the moral high ground in the proceedings. This is not to say that any divorce is about who is right or wrong. Still, many marriages disintegrate because one party in the relationship did something to destroy the relationship. When this is the case, you are dealing with a fault divorce since the relationship's end can be traced to one party's actions. When petitioning for divorce, you or your spouse can accuse the other of being responsible for causing the divorce through misconduct.

Couple Filing Divorce Papers

The cause of a fault divorce is usually infidelity or abuse. When your spouse is guilty of cheating on you or harming you, they can be identified as the reason a divorce is necessary. Infidelity is a violation of the marriage contract, whereas abuse is outright illegal, meaning your decision to divorce your spouse directly results from these egregious offenses. However, fault divorces are not the only possible option:

A no-fault divorce is not about blaming one spouse for the marriage's failure and instead focuses on proving the marriage's end was imminent. This usually means there are irreconcilable differences between you and your spouse that turns the marriage into a strain on both of you. That said, a no-fault divorce does not guarantee an uncontested divorce, as you and your spouse might argue about how the assets you share should be divided.

6. Mediated Divorce

While there are multiple divorce types, there is a subcategory known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that is the basis for the remaining three divorce types. The first of these ADR variants is mediated divorce.

Solution Mediated divorce is a popular selection for couples who have difficulty finding common ground with each other. Unable to agree on anything makes divorce negotiations virtually impossible, which means an impartial 3rd party is often necessary. Mediated divorce involves hiring a mediator to act as that impartial party and help you and your spouse negotiate.

Mediated Divorce Session

The mediator does not make decisions on your behalf but serves as a referee. They help prevent the negotiations from regressing into petty arguments where nothing gets solved. The mediator can even be a trained psychology professional if you feel that is what is necessary to resolve your differences. More detailed information about mediation must be gathered before selecting a mediator.

7. Collaborative Divorce

Solution The second of the ADR divorce types, known as collaborative divorce, is when divorce attorneys are retained to help with the negotiation process. You and your spouse will be required to hire your own attorneys that you will cooperate with to negotiate with your ex-to-be. Both your attorney and your spouse's will cooperate to reach an agreement. You and your spouse will be present at these meetings. You are also expected to disclose all relevant details about your marriage and divorce so your attorneys can negotiate from an informed position. Once your lawyers are fully informed, they can work towards an equitable settlement.

Collaborative Divorce Meeting

Collaborative divorces are not foolproof, unfortunately. These negotiations can fail and force you to pursue a more contentious divorce. When a collaborative divorce fails to settle, you and your spouse are legally required to dismiss your current attorneys and seek new representation. This prevents any conflict of interest and ensures that the settlement goal remains untainted by prior information. While collaborative divorce is an interesting concept, one form of divorce is still left to discuss.

8. Divorce Arbitration

The final ADR variant is known as divorce arbitration.

Solution Divorce arbitration sounds like a legal term because it is the closest form of ADR to a divorce trial. This similarity is because an attorney or even a retired judge is given authority over the process and will make decisions about key divorce agreements using the facts provided. The arbitrator examines the details of the evidence you and your spouse provide and uses that information to outline a divorce agreement that is fair for both parties.

They are essentially given authority over the divorce, and you must adhere to their decisions.

An Arbitration Agreement

Arbitration has advantages, such as being an informal process that does not require you to make a courtroom appearance. It also brings the same advantages as other ADR divorce proceedings, such as scheduling flexibility and low costs. However, having the control rest in a 3rd party who makes these decisions without any additional representation can be daunting. It is also impossible to appeal the decision made in divorce arbitration. With this, we have assessed all the divorce variations you might face. Knowing the difference between divorce types will only take you so far. There is always more to learn.

Learn the Law

Divorce law is a deeply complicated and stressful legal proceeding that can confuse those not trained in legal matters. The different types of divorce can be overwhelming enough for those facing their first separation. These eight divorce types are further complicated by all the steps that go into processing a divorce, how to prepare for filing for divorce, and more. Sometimes the amount of information surrounding divorce can be so overwhelming you do not know what to do with yourself. This means finding information about divorce and, more importantly, your specific situation is critical.

Divorce Law Objects

Once upon a time, getting ahold of that information meant having access to a legal library where educational texts and documents were stored. Most of the information found in such texts is so complicated that only law students and trained attorneys can understand the finer points of the data. Fortunately, getting ahold of information pertinent to the average citizen has become much simpler. Nowadays, a few taps on a keyboard can give you access to data important to you rather than your lawyer. Knowledge is the key to surviving a divorce and thriving after, and we urge you to gain as much as you can.

Written By:
Michael Tierney
Michael is a legal writer and graduate of WSU. Prior to becoming a legal writer, he had 6 years of experience as a legal assistant and office manager for a family law attorney. He's written about numerous legal subjects from helping spouses who are stuck in toxic situations to the intricacies of custody battles. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and building custom keyboards.

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