Reasons to Contest a Divorce

By Dan Ketchum

Updated March 15, 2018

man and woman divorced image by Ivonne Wierink from

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the divorce rate in the U.S. isn’t quite as dire as some make it out to be, clocking in at only 3.2 divorces per 1,000 people. That stat pretty much puts the old myth that “half of all marriages end in divorce” to bed, but here’s a truism that doesn’t need stats: Divorce can be messy, and a “contested” divorce is proof of that.

When spouses can’t agree on one or more stipulations of their divorce, it may become contested. Reasons for contesting range widely, but some topics are commonly contested.

Reasons to Contest

Think of all the things you might argue about with your spouse, and you’ll get an idea about the myriad reasons you might contest a divorce. Basically, a contest can result from a disagreement about virtually any divorce issue.

Commonly, these include issues such as disagreements about fidelity, allegations of abuse, conflicting stories on abandonment or cohabitation, and disputes over child-rearing, custody or child support. As you might expect, many contests arise over relief sought, whether they’re disputes over the amount or form of relief itself or the basis for that relief. These disputes include disagreements over division of property, distribution of assets, alimony and debt allocation.

On the subject of reasons, there may also be ulterior motives for contesting a divorce – namely, to place blame on one spouse in a such a way that benefits the other.

Contesting as a Strategy

Oftentimes, a genuine dispute among spouses spurs a contested divorce. In some cases, however, attorneys may use a contested divorce as a legal strategy.

When the attorney prepares the petition for divorce, reasons for the separation may be included that the attorney fully expects her client’s spouse to disagree with or relief terms she expects to be contested. Like any other negotiation, the attorney may use the contested terms as leverage to negotiate better relief terms for her client.

Contesting, of course, takes time, and time means more legal fees, which is exactly why contesting is also used as means to spur compromise.

The Process

When issues in a petition for divorce are contested, spouses have a few different methods for defense. They may claim an affirmative defense of provocation, which defends their actions as something provoked by their spouse. Alternatively, they may defend themselves with recrimination, which alleges that the accusing spouse is guilty of the same behavior as the accused.

To get to the finish line of a contested divorce, spouses typically must hire an attorney and engage in an information-gathering process known as “divorce discovery,” collecting concrete info and witnesses that speak to their perspective. Next come pre-trial procedures and hearings, settlement proposals and possible out-of-court negotiations and, if necessary, a court trial.