How can a divorce proceed if your spouse won't sign the papers?
Although there are many reasons a spouse may refuse to sign divorce paperwork, your spouse cannot legally prevent you from getting a divorce.
Whether you decided to get an online divorce or your separation process went in a different direction, there are many reasons why a spouse may refuse to sign divorce papers: he or she is confused about what to do with the documents, is hesitant to go along with ending the marriage, is disinterested, or simply just wants to make you angry.
Regardless of the reasons, there is one important thing to note: your spouse cannot legally prevent you from filing for divorce, whether the papers are signed or unsigned.
Most divorces start with a separation agreement that spells out things such as who lives where, who pays the bills, or who gets the kids when.
However, separation agreements are generally not something a court grants. You can draw one up (by yourself or with a divorce attorney’s counsel), but if your spouse won’t sign it, there is little you can do.
Like a business contract that is signed by only one party, it’s pretty much meaningless unless you both agree to it.
Irrespective of a separation agreement, if you decide to file for divorce, the law requires that your spouse be “served” or notified about the divorce and its proceedings.
Generally, papers are served either through a legal processor or through certified mail within 120 days of filing for the divorce; your spouse then typically has 30 days to respond. If your spouse is dodging the processors, refusing to sign for certified mail, giving you a phony address, etc., you can go to court and ask for more time or request that you be allowed to post your intent to divorce in a legal notice placed in a local paper. Publishing the notice satisfies your requirement of notifying your spouse—whether he or she sees the ad or not.
Be aware, though, that your spouse is under no legal obligation to respond to the divorce notice. While it will behoove him or her to respond so any concerns and demands can be addressed, not signing the paperwork just means your spouse’s side is never presented in court. And the divorce may drag on.
All 50 states now allow a person to file for divorce using the no-fault catchall. Instead of itemizing why the marriage is ending and assigning blame (e.g., infidelity, cruelty, etc.), a court will allow you to file for divorce without cause—or, a “no-fault” divorce. Because there is no finger-pointing, a reluctant spouse may be more likely to go along with a no-fault divorce knowing his/her reputation will not be damaged. Consult a lawyer to see if this is a good option for you.
Let’s say you’ve done everything right: you filed properly, gave your spouse notice, waited the requisite amount of time for a response, showed up for all court proceedings and generally followed the letter of the law. But your spouse is still not cooperating—now what? Ask your attorney about entering into a default proceeding.
As the name implies, a default divorce is kind of like a forfeiture: your spouse didn’t show up or play by the rules, so now the judge is forced to rule in your favor. Essentially, a default divorce is a divorce based on the filing spouse’s terms. Things like division of property, child support, and custody arrangements spelled out by the filing spouse will generally be upheld by the court. The court will assume that if your spouse had any issues with the papers, he or she would have made them known.
Lastly, if your spouse is simply nowhere to be found—for example, no forwarding address has been left, his or her place of employment is unknown, the family hasn’t heard from him or her, etc., it is possible to file for divorce using the reason of abandonment. In this case the court will grant you a divorce without a hearing (or the signing of paperwork), but you will have to endure a 6-month waiting period and make more attempts to find your spouse. But in the end, even if you don’t find your spouse, you can still get divorced.
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