How to Move Forward When Your Spouse Ignores the Divorce

Taking the step to file for divorce is significant, but it can become even more stressful if your spouse refuses to participate in the process. This lack of engagement can leave you feeling trapped, overwhelmed, and uncertain about how to proceed. However, there are effective strategies that can help you navigate these challenges and move toward a resolution.

Communication strategies

The "heart-to-heart" strategy

One of the hardest parts of a divorce can be dealing with a spouse who seems to avoid the situation entirely. Their reasons may vary – comfort in the current living arrangement, fear, anger, grief, or perhaps a strategic legal play. The goal is to engage them in a way that highlights the serious consequences of their inaction, balancing firmness with compassion. It's worth noting that a vast majority of divorces (95%) are settled outside of court, and of those, 80% proceed without lawyers. This shows that, even in less-than-ideal circumstances, there are pathways to a more amicable and cost-effective resolution. There still might be some conflict but you don’t have to assume it will be an all-out war. 

Direct strategy

While the “heart-to-heart” strategy may be ideal, we realize it doesn’t work for everyone. Even if communication has become hostile, the goal is still to motivate your spouse with clear directions that don’t trigger more resistance. By telling your spouse exactly what you need from them, and the risks they can take by not participating, you’re letting them know that while you don’t want to involve the court or attorneys, you will if you must.

Crafting your message with our sample letters or scripts

In an effort to break through the impasse, consider sharing a detailed message with your spouse. It can be alone or with a therapist or a neutral third party – whatever feels safe. Understand that whatever you put in writing will likely be read by others. So onto the sample language (and feel free to modify). 

Example A: Heartfelt, encouraging teamwork

"Hi [Name]:

I hope this message finds you in a moment of peace amidst everything that's going on. I've spent a lot of time thinking about how we've arrived at this point, and I understand that diving into the details of a divorce can be overwhelming, to say the least. But it's crucial for both of us to acknowledge the reality we're facing and the decisions that lie ahead.

We're at a critical juncture where our actions—or lack thereof—will significantly impact our futures, financially and emotionally. Ignoring the divorce paperwork doesn't just freeze our current situation; it sets us on a path that could end up costing us thousands in legal fees, not to mention the emotional toll of having a judge make decisions about aspects of our lives that we're more than capable of resolving ourselves.

I've taken the first step by filing the divorce paperwork and ensuring you were served, recognizing that this isn't just about ending a chapter but about how we navigate the process with dignity and respect for what we once shared. The next step requires your engagement. In our state this involves [insert next step i.e. financial disclosures], a step that's not just a formality but a foundation for transparent negotiation. I can provide the forms, you can find them on the court website for free or Hello Divorce can help you.

Once you’ve completed the task above, we have one more step to accomplish: getting to an agreement (money, assets, debts, [kids]) and putting it in writing. This not only keeps our costs down but also puts us in control of the outcomes. We can exchange settlement offers in writing or work with a mediator to help us negotiate an agreement. Our state [does/ does not] require a final hearing, [ but with everything agreed upon, it's more a formality than a battleground.] 

Here's the thing: if we can't find common ground, or if you choose not to participate, the options left to me are not ones I want to pursue, but I will if necessary. One route is for me to file paperwork with the court for a ‘true default’ divorce. This not only drags out the process but could result in me asking the court for you to contribute to my legal fees, given the additional time and resources required. And while I don’t want this, you'd also give me the power to make all the final decisions, and thereby lose your right to challenge any terms or make asset claims. 

The alternative is that we both lawyer up and brace for a legal battle, a scenario that benefits neither of us. If we're forced into a corner where every dollar spent on legal fees is a dollar lost from what could be preserved for our futures, we're both at a loss. Fighting it out in court, spending anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 on legal fees, is the last thing I want. It's destructive, exhausting, and far from the respectful closure we both deserve.

That's why I'm reaching out, asking for us to navigate this together, possibly with the support of a mediator or a legal advisor to guide our discussions. It's about making decisions that reflect our needs, our children's needs, and our mutual respect.

Please, let's find a way to move forward constructively. I'm asking you to respond by [deadline], so we know where we stand and can plan accordingly. If I don't hear back, I'll have to take the next steps as outlined, but I'm holding onto the hope that we can resolve this together.

Take care,

[Your Name]"

Example B: Direct but friendly

Hi [Name],

We've got some big stuff to sort out with our divorce, and ignoring the paperwork won't make it go away. It'll just make things messier and more expensive for both of us.

I've started the ball rolling by filing the papers you've got now. The next thing you must do is [insert next step, e.g., financial disclosures]. It's not just ticking boxes; it's about laying everything out so we can make fair decisions. You can find what you need online or get help from Hello Divorce.

After that, we've got to hammer out an agreement on our finances and everything else. It’s time to trade our settlement ideas or meet with a mediator. We need to pick one and get this done. If we don't, I'll have to push things along either by asking for a 'default' divorce or getting the court involved. I’ve learned that neither of those options is good for us. They cost a ton, and a judge who doesn't know us will be calling the shots on things they might not get right, like how we handle our money or our time with the kids.

Let's get this settled between us. We'll save money and hassle. I need you to step up by [deadline]. If I don't hear back, I've got to do what I've got to do, but I'd rather figure this out together.

Talk soon,

[Your Name]

Example C: Short and direct

Hey [Name],

I’ve started the divorce process, not just to close a chapter, but to navigate our futures with the respect our past deserves. Now, it’s your turn to engage. Our state requires [next step, e.g., financial disclosures], crucial for fair negotiations. Ignoring the divorce won’t make it go away, and our next moves—or lack thereof—carry big financial burdens. We can find these forms on the court's website or get assistance from Hello Divorce.

Here’s the bottom line: We need to reach an agreement on finances, assets, [kids], etc., and make it official. This saves us both money and gives us control over the outcome. If we can’t come together on this, I’m left with no choice but to either pursue a true default divorce or head to court. Both paths mean less control for us, higher costs, and the court making decisions on our behalf. Additionally, you risk losing the right to make any challenges or claims in the final outcome.

This isn’t a threat; it’s a plea for us to work together—through mediation or with legal help—to make choices that honor our needs and those of our children. You must respond by [deadline]. Without your cooperation, I’ll have to proceed with options that neither of us will like but will ensure progress.

Take care,

[Your Name]"

Mediation and out-of-court negotiation

If you’re able to get your spouse to “act,” they either have to sign an agreement or you have to negotiate one. You can do it on your own, and recommend you use some of our free resources to help make it easier. Here are a few:

Then, you'll want to try engaging in mediation or negotiation outside of court can offer a pathway to resolution that is less adversarial and more cost-effective.


  • Saves money by avoiding extensive legal fees.
  • Allows for creative solutions that consider taxes, schedules, short-term financial struggles, and long-term goals.
  • Offers flexibility to set your own timeline and choose who you work with.
  • Helps to resolve conflicts without escalating them.
  • Enables working with the right professional for specific issues, such as a financial advisor for financial matters or a real estate strategist for property issues, which can be more efficient than a traditional lawyer.


  • The spouse can withdraw from the process, making it challenging to finalize agreements.
  • It might be difficult to get the spouse to commit to an agreement and adhere to a schedule.

Download: The Ultimate Guide to Divorce Mediation

Next steps if your spouse remains uncooperative

If your spouse does not respond to your letter, you can continue to take steps toward completing your divorce. 

Start by reviewing the Settlement Agreement Checklist to ensure that you've thought through all terms that need to be included in your divorce agreement (sometimes called Marital Settlement Agreement, Judgment, or Decree). Then proceed to the final agreement step (Step 3) and follow the online interview to draft your final divorce paperwork. Of course, depending on the route you ultimately take to finalize your divorce, your documents might need to be edited, but that's the easy part. Completing Step 3 now gives you a big head start on finalizing all remaining required legal documents and getting clear on what orders you want your spouse to agree to and/or the judge to ultimately sign off on. Step 3 provides you with clarity on issues such as asset division, custody, and support (alimony). 

If at first you don't succeed...

Now that you've drafted your Step 3 documents, if you still have not received a response from your spouse, you may want to send one more letter – this time with all the documents that your spouse needs to sign to finalize the divorce. This time the message can be even shorter and more to the point. Example:

Hi [Name],

I haven't heard back from you so I went ahead and completed the remaining documents required for our divorce. I've attached them here. In order to avoid court involvement (i.e. litigation, lawyers and/or the judge signing the attached the paperwork without your input), you need to sign and date all documents attached or agree to schedule a mediation session with me on or before ____ date. 

If your attempt to engage with your spouse doesn’t elicit the response you were hoping for, you might need to consider your next steps carefully. These could include proceeding with a true default divorce, having a lawyer send a more formal notice, or requesting a court conference to encourage participation. While these steps may lead to further legal involvement, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of divorces are resolved without going to trial.

Making decisions about all the terms of your divorce now will make the default process faster if you go that route. Plus, it can easily be edited if necessary later.

Divorce by true default

If your spouse refuses to participate or can’t be found, pursuing a true default divorce allows you to move forward without their participation.


  • Enables progress without needing the non-participating spouse to agree or respond.
  • Allows for the request of orders without the spouse presenting opposing evidence.


  • Usually, a court filing and judge’s approval is required to proceed by default
  • May require legal advice and assistance, potentially increasing costs.
  • Lack of information from the spouse about assets could complicate proceedings.
  • The process can be lengthy, delaying resolution.

Court involvement 

In cases where mediation or negotiation fails, or if a spouse is completely unresponsive, court involvement might be necessary to move forward.


  • Helps to move the case forward if it’s stuck due to a lack of cooperation.
  • Can obtain orders in situations where the spouse is unreasonable or absent.


  • Often leads to higher expenses and a stressful process.
  • Can become messy and emotionally draining for all parties involved.

How Hello Divorce can help

Navigating the divorce process, especially when facing challenges like a non-responsive spouse, can be daunting. Hello Divorce offers resources, guidance, and access to professionals who can help you navigate your divorce, whether through mediation, negotiation, or understanding your options if you have to go to court. With tools, advice, and support tailored to your needs, we’re here to help you find the best path forward. Schedule a free 15-minute info call to learn more.

Founder, CEO & Certified Family Law Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Insights, Legal Insights
After over a decade of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, Mediator and law firm owner, Erin was fed up with the inefficient and adversarial “divorce corp” industry and set out to transform how consumers navigate divorce - starting with the legal process. By automating the court bureaucracy and integrating expert support along the way, Hello Divorce levels the playing field between spouses so that they can sort things out fairly and avoid missteps. Her access to justice work has been recognized by the legal industry and beyond, with awards and recognition from the likes of Women Founders Network, TechCrunch, Vice, Forbes, American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Leadership award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Erin lives in California with her husband and two children, and is famously terrible at board games.