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What Does Litigation Mean?

The Difference Between Uncontested and Contested Divorce

I don’t think I understood what the word “litigation” meant until I was in law school. Seriously. It is one of the most misunderstood legal terms, right up there with “forensic” (which means for the court) and “tort” (a civil wrong).

I was the first in my family to earn a “professional” (meaning graduate-level) degree, while my mom and dad were the first in their family to earn undergraduate degrees. I did not grow up among lawyers, investors, or wealth managers and, therefore, did not begin to learn the vernacular of these professions until I decided to go to law school.

I am still learning to this day and will continue to be in process until I have fallen down and can’t get up. That’s why they call it the practice of law, as the adage goes.

Trust me, a lifetime is not enough to learn everything that can be learned about the practice of law. I assume that’s the case for every profession.

Latin was the original language of lawyers and doctors.

From this ancient romance language, we have iconic legal maxims such as:

  • Bona Fide (in good faith)
  • Quid Pro Quo (this for that, or tit for tat)
  • Res Ipsa Loquitur (the thing speaks for itself)
  • Ex Parte (just like it sounds, without the other party present)
  • Habeas Corpus (bring me the body)
  • Pro Se (on one’s own behalf)
  • Nunc Pro Tunc (now for then)
  • Mens Rea (a man’s reasoning or intention)

The word “litigation” is derived from the Latin verb litigare, meaning “a lawsuit,” and agrere, meaning “to carry on.” But what does litigation mean? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary,

“Litigation is a noun that means the process of contesting and resolving disputes in the legal system.”

In other words, if your legal case is “litigated,” it means it is being resolved in the court system with intervention from a judge.

By contrast, it is the opposite of a hand-shake deal, a gentlemen’s agreement, a kitchen table negotiation, or reaching a settlement outside of court. Litigation is for people who can’t resolve their disputes on their own.

Many assume litigation means taking someone to court, and while this is technically correct, most cases never see the inside of a courtroom.


Let’s start with what is not litigation in the context of a divorce case.

The process of divorce in Florida starts when you or your spouse file a petition for dissolution of marriage with the clerk of court in the county where you last lived together as a married couple. If you have children, the petition is filed in the county where your children permanently live (this is generally the same place, but not always).

The petition asks the court (meaning the judge assigned to your case) to dissolve the bonds of your marriage and restore you to being single and unmarried. Florida has been a no-fault divorce state since approximately 1971.

No-fault means you don’t have to prove any grounds for divorce except to state generally the marriage is irretrievably broken and there’s nothing that can fix it. There is no fighting a spouse’s request to be divorced:  it only takes one person in the marriage to break the marriage.

The judge assigned to your case is not interested in what got you and your spouse to this fork in the road. The judge in your case also does not monitor or intervene in your divorce process unless they are asked to do so. But more on that later.

Andrea Morgan

Andrea is a native Floridian born and raised in Winter Park, Florida. Throughout her career as a divorce attorney, she has handled divorce cases in every county in Central and South Florida. She has recently expanded her firm from Central Florida to also serve Palm Beach County and West Palm Beach. She is a respected divorce lawyer, coach, consultant, author, mediator, and advocate of social change within the Florida court system.Andrea earned her Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola University College of Law, New Orleans and graduated from the University of Central Florida in Orlando with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Legal Studies.She has been certified as a family mediator by the Florida Supreme Court, is a trained collaborative family law attorney, and is a member of the Collaborative Family Law Group of Central Florida; the Collaborative Family Law Professionals of South Florida; and the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals.With over two decades as a trial attorney, Andrea has fine-tuned her understanding of the unique dynamics and challenges families face during restructure. She handles contested family law cases that are litigated in court, but also vigorously encourages uncontested divorce methods as the premier route for the restructuring of families.Andrea advocates divorce mediation, cooperative divorce, and collaborative divorce as the more effective, more respectful, more cost-effective, and more healthful means to divorce, especially when there are children involved.

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