My Spouse Won’t Sign Our Divorce Papers – Now What?

  • You can get divorced without your spouse’s signature
  • Understanding different types of divorce
  • File this paperwork if your spouse won’t cooperate
  • Timeline for true default divorce
  • Divorce process overview
  • FAQ

Navigating the complex world of divorce is challenging, especially when you're faced with a reluctant spouse who refuses to sign the divorce papers. This refusal can undoubtedly amplify your stress levels and create more uncertainty about your future. However, it's crucial to understand that their refusal does not signify an impasse. Your divorce proceedings can, and will, continue despite this hurdle.

When one party in a divorce refuses to participate, it may seem like a roadblock, but it's not a dead end. The legal system has provisions to handle such situations and protect your rights so the process can move forward. Thus, their refusal to sign the divorce papers is not a veto power over your decision to separate.

It's essential to remember that divorce is a legal process, governed by laws and regulations that are designed to be fair and just. Even if your spouse is being uncooperative, the law ensures that the divorce proceedings can still take place. Therefore, while this situation may complicate matters, it does not make them impossible.

You can get divorced without your spouse’s signature

Let’s say your spouse is refusing to sign the paperwork. This happens frequently, especially when spouses have been living apart for some time and may not be on speaking terms. What are your options?

When filing for divorce, the first step after you've filed your petition is to serve the divorce petition on your spouse. This involves having someone else physically deliver a copy of the petition to them, either by mail or in person. 

It's important to follow proper legal procedures when serving the petition to make sure it’s valid and legally binding. Read How to Serve Divorce Papers on Your Spouse for more information.

Even if your spouse refuses to sign the petition, you can get divorced. In this scenario, you would need to file for a contested divorce and go through court proceedings to resolve any issues related to property division, child custody, child support, spousal support, and other matters.

Understanding different types of divorce

A contested divorce is one where both parties cannot reach an agreement on one or more key issues such as alimony, child custody, property division, or other such matters. This disagreement necessitates further legal intervention in a courtroom. The process can take a lot of time and expense due to its complexity and adversarial nature.

An uncontested divorce is one where spouses agree on all significant aspects of the divorce, including arrangements for child custody, property division, and spousal support. Uncontested divorces are generally quicker and less costly since they bypass the need for lengthy court proceedings.

The distinction between these two types of divorces becomes particularly relevant when a spouse refuses to sign divorce papers or respond to a divorce petition. In such cases, you may find yourself dealing with what's known as a default divorce.

Read: What Is True Default Divorce? by Hello Divorce Founder, CEO, and Certified Family Law Specialist Erin Levine

A default divorce occurs when one spouse does not respond to the divorce petition within the stipulated time frame. This non-response can be seen as a form of passive agreement, where the court assumes the non-responsive spouse agrees to the terms stated in the petition due to their lack of objection. Consequently, the court may grant a default divorce, allowing the divorce proceedings to move forward without the participation of the unresponsive spouse.

However, it's important to note that a default divorce isn't automatic. The spouse seeking the divorce must request the court to enter a default judgment. Also, the consequences of a default divorce can be severe for the non-responsive spouse, as they lose their chance to have a say in the divorce proceedings. This could result in an unfavorable outcome concerning property division, child custody, or spousal support.

File this paperwork if your spouse won’t cooperate

If your spouse refuses to sign an acknowledgment of receiving the divorce petition, it can complicate the process, but there are steps you can take.

  • As the petitioner, you would need to prove that you made a reasonable effort to serve your spouse with divorce papers. This typically involves providing evidence, such as delivery receipts or affidavits from the process server.
  • If your spouse continues to refuse to acknowledge receipt of the petition, you could request a true default judgment.

In a true default divorce, the court grants a divorce without requiring both parties to appear in court. Before this can happen, however, you must show that you made every effort possible to serve your spouse with the divorce papers and have waited a prerequisite amount of time for a response. 

Timeline for true default divorce

The timeline for a true default divorce varies by state. Generally, it involves the following steps:

  1.  You file a motion for a true default judgment with the court.
  2.  You provide evidence that you made reasonable efforts to serve your spouse with the divorce papers.
  3.  You wait for the court to schedule a hearing on your motion.
  4.  You attend the hearing and present evidence of your attempts to serve your spouse.
  5.  You wait for the judge to issue a ruling granting or denying your motion.

If the judge grants your motion, they will issue a final divorce decree based on what is fair and equitable under state law. This may involve decisions related to property division, child custody, and support payments.

Watch: My Spouse Won't Participate in Our Divorce, Now What?


Divorce process overview

The first step in initiating a divorce is filing a petition. The person who files for divorce is referred to as the petitioner, and the other spouse is the respondent. This legal document, known as the divorce petition or complaint, sets forth the grounds for divorce, division of assets, child custody, and other relevant matters.

Once the petition has been filed, the next crucial step is serving the divorce papers to your spouse. This process, known as service of process, is a formal way of notifying your spouse that you have initiated divorce proceedings. The law requires this notification to ensure that all parties involved are aware of the proceedings and have an opportunity to respond.

There are several methods to serve divorce papers:

  1.  Personal service: This involves physically delivering the papers to your spouse. You cannot do this yourself; instead, a neutral third party, such as a professional process server or sheriff, must handle it.
  2.  Service by mail: In some jurisdictions, you can mail the divorce papers via registered or certified mail with the return receipt requested. This provides proof that your spouse received the documents.
  3.  Publication: If you cannot locate your spouse, you may be able to use service by publication. This involves publishing a notice of the divorce in a local newspaper. However, this method is generally a last resort and requires court approval.

After your spouse has been served, they have a specific time frame (usually 30 days) to respond to the petition. If they fail to do so, you may request a default judgment, as discussed in the earlier section on different types of divorce.

Remember, every divorce case is unique and may not follow this exact process. It's essential to consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney who can guide you through the complexities of your specific situation.

FAQ about divorcing an uncooperative spouse

What if my spouse accuses me of something I didn’t do to avoid divorce?

Facing false accusations from your spouse during a divorce process can be both stressful and complex. It's crucial to remain calm, gather as much evidence as possible to disprove any untrue claims and consider professional legal guidance.

One reason a spouse may resort to such tactics could be an attempt to avoid the divorce altogether. This could be due to various reasons such as financial concerns or emotional readiness. They might believe that by complicating the process, they can delay or stop the proceedings. These attempts do not halt the legal process of divorce, but they may prolong it.

A recommended approach in such situations is to attempt to resolve the issue through mediation or negotiation with your spouse. This strategy involves the assistance of a neutral third party, like a mediator, who can facilitate productive discussions and help identify common ground between both parties. Mediation could potentially lead to a resolution without the need for further court involvement.

If your spouse remains obstinate and mediation proves unsuccessful, you may need to proceed to court. In such circumstances, it becomes vital to collaborate closely with an experienced family law attorney. They can assist you in building a robust case, present evidence to refute any false allegations made by your spouse, and guide you through the complexities of the judicial process.

In cases where a spouse refuses to sign the divorce papers or fails to respond, you might find yourself heading toward a default divorce. Know that the judge might require a default hearing before granting everything requested in your divorce petition. In this hearing, you'll need to provide evidence supporting your claims made in the petition. An experienced attorney can help prepare for this hearing and ensure your interests are well represented.

Read: A Beginner’s Guide to Divorce Mediation 

What if my spouse threatens me or my children because I want a divorce?

If your spouse is threatening you or your children because you want a divorce, it's important to protect yourself and your family. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Document everything. Keep a log of any threats made by your spouse, including the date and time of each incident.
  • Put safety first. Every domestic violence situation is different. Your actions could have consequences, so be sure that safety is always on your radar. If you need it, get help. Consider calling 1-800-799-7233, or visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.
  • Consider counseling. Divorce can be an emotional and stressful time for everyone involved. Consider seeking counseling for yourself and your children in order to cope with any trauma caused by the situation.

Remember that threats of violence should always be taken seriously, and resources exist to help keep you safe during this difficult time.

Could mediation possibly help in a difficult divorce situation?

Yes, mediation can indeed be a beneficial option in challenging divorce situations.

Mediation is often more cost-effective than traditional court proceedings. Since it aims to reduce conflict and promote cooperation, it can potentially shorten the length of the divorce process, thereby reducing legal costs.

Mediation provides a less adversarial environment, which can be less stressful and more conducive to reaching mutually agreeable solutions.

However, it's important to note that mediation isn't the only alternative dispute resolution option available. Other methods include collaborative divorce and arbitration.

  • In a collaborative divorce, both spouses and their respective lawyers commit to resolving issues without going to court. This process encourages open communication and cooperation, with the goal of reaching a settlement that respects the interests of all parties involved.
  • Arbitration, on the other hand, is a process where a neutral arbitrator makes binding decisions on disputed issues. It's somewhat similar to a court trial but tends to be less formal and more flexible.

What if my spouse skips the final hearing?

If your spouse skips the final hearing for your divorce, there are several possible outcomes. Here are a few:

The judge may give your spouse a second chance.

If there is a valid reason why your spouse missed the final hearing, such as illness or a family emergency, the judge may grant them another opportunity to attend. In this case, the court will schedule a new hearing date and notify both parties.

The judge may proceed with the divorce.

If your spouse fails to show up to the final hearing without a valid reason, the judge may choose to proceed with the divorce. In this case, they will review all evidence presented by you and your attorney and make a decision based on that information.

Your divorce may be delayed.

If your spouse misses the final hearing and does not provide a valid reason for their absence, it's possible that the court will delay your divorce until your spouse can be located and served with notice of another hearing date.

At Hello Divorce, we understand that no two divorce cases are alike and that clients need individualized help. That’s why we offer a range of customizable online divorce plans and a menu of individually priced services for you to choose from.

To learn more about what we offer, please schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation with one of our account coordinators using the link below.
Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.