FAQ: What Happens If You Don’t Sign Divorce Papers?

By:
Michael Tierney
Updated
May 18, 2022

Divorce can be a stressful and messy situation, primarily since the circumstances for divorce change based on the personal situation of those involved. Sometimes, it is as simple as no longer seeing eye-to-eye with your spouse and needing to get out of a failing marriage. Other times, it is a tumultuous event for one person trying to escape a hostile marriage. An unfortunate reality is that infidelity, abuse, and dishonesty are significant causes of divorce. No matter who you might be, having such a marriage can be demoralizing.

Even more unfortunate is that some marriages are not so easily dissolved. There have been plenty of people who have refused to sign once served their divorce paperwork. Situations like this can make you feel trapped in your marriage even when you know the best course of action is to end it.

When your spouse refuses to sign the paperwork, it can seem like there are no other options and that your spouse’s behavior has no consequences. However, there are avenues to proceed with divorce even when your soon-to-be ex-spouse refuses to sign the paperwork willingly. Hopefully, this article will prove enlightening to the options you have.

Please remember that you should consult with an attorney for specific information about your state and situation.

Can Your Spouse Legally Refuse to Sign?

Unfortunately, divorce law is a chaotic affair that tends to boil down to finger-pointing and arguments. Even when your spouse signs the paperwork without any fuss, the stress of divorce court will always strain you. However, the fact remains that your spouse might be able to refuse outright to sign the divorce paperwork, which can throw a serious wrench in your plans if they prove to be obstinate towards the divorce proceedings.

Fortunately, even when your spouse refuses to sign the divorce paperwork, you still have options to move things along.

Legally Refusing to Sign

You have options because there are two distinct types of divorce proceedings.

  • Uncontested Divorce: As the name suggests, an uncontested divorce is ideal for divorce proceedings - this is the type of divorce where both parties agree to the terms outlined in the divorce paperwork and move on. While it may be an ideal solution for some, it is not always so simple, likely bringing you to this article.
  • Contested Divorce: A contested divorce occurs when your spouse refuses to sign the paperwork or outright ignores the request. While this can complicate things, this is when you will be able to bring the issue before a court and petition a judge to grant the divorce.

So, while it is within their rights to not sign the presented paperwork, it does not necessarily prevent you from successfully divorcing your spouse.

Solution The only thing that is accomplished when your spouse signs the initial divorce petition is that they are not contesting it. While this can make the procedure more straightforward and less stressful, it has no impact on your ability to divorce your spouse successfully.

A spouse refusing to sign divorce papers does not mean you cannot get a divorce. You will always have the power to file for divorce regardless of your spouse’s unwillingness to accept the situation. So, no matter how much your spouse wants to avoid it, nothing can stop the process unless you want it to stop. After that, it simply becomes a question of what to do next.

Should You Consult With An Attorney?

If you are trying to secure a divorce from an uncooperative spouse, you might consider retaining legal counsel. Divorce court is already tricky to navigate on your own, especially when you file a contested divorce. In these situations, you can hire an attorney to help with the legal nuances of the process.

When it comes to divorce court, attorneys generally serve the purpose of mediators, who negotiate the division of assets between you and your spouse.

In an uncontested divorce process, your attorney will present your case to the judge and serve paperwork to your spouse.

Consulting With an Attorney

Anything filed by an attorney comes with an explicit time limit for completion, meaning your spouse must sign paperwork if they do not want to appear before a judge. Attorneys also offer another significant advantage that can be difficult to secure. The laws and regulations surrounding divorce are not universal across the country. Each state will have its rules, policies, and deadlines that must be met when trying to file for divorce.

Finally, an attorney will offer representation when a judge gets involved. This representation means that you can rest assured that all paperwork and legal requirements are correctly observed.

However, even with an attorney involved, there is more to understand about what happens to your spouse when divorce papers are not signed.

Where Does Mediation Come In?

Divorce is a serious legal procedure that can cause tensions and emotions to spike. Often, the one seeking the divorce has had ample time to process their feelings and mental state regarding the decision. However, sometimes your spouse will be shocked by the serving of divorce paperwork even when it was a long-time coming.

While you are entitled to your happiness and what you think is best, your spouse’s emotions can interfere with decision-making. Without the proper time to come to terms with the situation, they can go into denial and refuse to sign the paperwork.

Mediation Process

When this happens, talking things through can often be the best solution. While not strictly a court-based approach, mediation can be the tool you need to help them come to terms. Sitting down with your spouse and talking things through will allow them to air their feelings on the situation, and you can guide them towards why divorce is the right decision for both of you.

Solution If you are not comfortable having a one-on-one conversation about it, mediation services are available that will enable you to discuss it with a neutral third party.

In addition to allowing your spouse to present their side of things and express their feelings, mediation has a secondary effect. If you are trying to maintain an amicable relationship with your spouse after the divorce, mediation can help you resolve specific issues that promote a better post-divorce rapport.

We are not saying that you should allow your spouse’s denial to affect your efforts to seek a divorce. We only suggest that a conversation can be a helpful tool for helping grease the wheels. If your spouse gets an opportunity to discuss their feelings on the matter, they will be more inclined to sign the divorce papers with less resistance.

Unfortunately, this is not a foolproof option; for example, your spouse will not want to sign the papers and oppose the divorce outright. However, you are still not forced to remain in the marriage in these cases. Even when a spouse refuses to sign off on the divorce, there are legal avenues you can take to divorce them with the blessing of the judicial system.

What if Your Spouse Defaults on the Divorce?

The term “default” is thrown about fairly often in the legal world. However, the term’s exact meaning can be hard to follow for those uninitiated in legal terminology.

Defaulting has multiple meanings when divorce court is involved, but it revolves around your spouse failing to meet you halfway.

  • The first type of defaulting occurs when your spouse refuses to sign the paperwork to finalize a divorce within the allotted time limit. It also applies if your spouse was scheduled to appear in court for the divorce proceedings and failed to appear. This type of default generally helps improve your image in the eyes of the court and helps to enhance the odds of a better divorce settlement for you.
  • The second type of default is the more important of the two since it is what helps you reach your ultimate goal. This kind is known as a default judgment, which is generally used to describe the final steps of an uncontested divorce. In a contested divorce, you can seek a default judgment from the judge overseeing your case to secure a divorce without your spouse’s approval.

However, you must follow several steps to file for a default judgment successfully.

Defaulting on Divorce

The requirements will have slight differences depending on the state you live, but generally, you will need to:

  • Submit a request for a default judgment to the court.
  • Provide evidence that you have exhausted every possible resource to inform your spouse of the divorce request.
  • File any additional paperwork needed if you request alimony, child support, or other asset division.

When a request is made for default judgment, it can go one of two ways. The best case will have the judge sign off on the request and grant you your divorce. However, you will be asked to appear for a hearing to finalize the process in some cases. This appearance is generally used to ensure the request for the default judgment does not infringe upon your spouse’s legal rights.

However, the odds of a judge rejecting a default judgment when the proper paperwork is filed are slim. That said, we know that divorce can be coming from a place of concern. In these cases, you have more cause than most to seek a divorce without your spouse’s consent.

Is Your Spouse Dangerous?

Being in a marriage with a violent spouse is a severe and terrifying condition that anyone would want to escape. There is no shame in being the victim of an abusive spouse. On the contrary, the only one who deserves to be shamed is the one inflicting the abuse.

Domestic abuse is taken very seriously by the American courts, and it can be a driving force for successfully securing a contested divorce. If you are a victim of domestic abuse from your spouse, there is the hope of getting out of it.

Solution You should never be made to feel trapped in a marriage that was supposed to be built on love and mutual respect.

We know it can be challenging to try and leave a violent spouse. However, taking action to get the domestic abuse on the record will enable you to divorce them more easily. The first thing you need to do is file a complaint to the local authorities describing the actions and events that transpired with your spouse. These complaints become a matter of legal record, meaning that you can use these complaints to push your divorce through even if your spouse is trying to maintain their hold. If you fear your safety, you are legally entitled to leave the house for a safer location.

Is Your Spouse Dangerous

The fact that your spouse is a threat to you serves as a “good reason” to leave your home in the eyes of the law. Ordinarily, moving out of your home without sufficient cause could backfire during the divorce proceedings, but a domestic violence record is a valid reason for departure. As soon as you are free of the home, you can contact your attorney and begin the process of separating from your spouse.

We want to reiterate that we know how terrifying it is to begin the process of leaving an abusive spouse. However, it is the step necessary to emancipate yourself from their abuse. Just know that you do not have to go it alone.

Letter of the Law

Divorce is always going to be an unpleasant experience for everyone involved. However, when it comes to a spouse refusing to sign the paperwork, the issue is not as severe as many believe. No laws prevent one party of marriage from pursuing a divorce against the other person’s will if you have a valid reason.

There will be a few differences if you live in specific states, but you should still be able to divorce your spouse despite a lack of signed papers. We know that the ideal scenario is to get an uncontested divorce where your spouse signs the petition, and you can both move on with your life. However, these situations are rarely so simple. Understanding the laws behind divorce is key to ensuring that such obstacles are minor inconveniences at worst.

Letter of the Law

Knowledge is power, and we at Learn Divorce Law are here to provide as much knowledge as possible about divorce regulations. Knowing that a signature is not everything is an excellent first step to preparing yourself for divorce proceedings. However, there is more to learn and understand if you want to be prepared for any potential situation.

If you have more questions about factors that might affect your divorce, check back on our website for more articles explaining the facets of divorce law. Until then, we wish you the best and are here to help.

Written By:
Michael Tierney
Michael is a legal writer and graduate of WSU. Prior to becoming a legal writer, he had 6 years of experience as a legal assistant and office manager for a family law attorney. He's written about numerous legal subjects from helping spouses who are stuck in toxic situations to the intricacies of custody battles. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and building custom keyboards.

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