Only under one circumstance would you need your spouse to sign papers so you can get your divorce. You need her signature if you’re in agreement regarding the divorce and want to file a joint petition to hasten the process along. If that’s not the case, you can file a petition on your own; this would not require her signature. When you do this, your spouse has no way of stopping you or blocking your divorce from finalization.
Go online to your state’s website and download a petition or complaint for divorce. Make sure it’s not a joint petition that requires your spouse’s signature. If your state does not offer legal documents on its website, you can also download a petition from a legal website. Make sure the form is applicable to your state.
Complete the petition. Where it asks for your grounds, choosing the no-fault option will prevent your spouse from trying to stop the divorce by arguing that your grounds did not really happen. Most states call their no-fault grounds “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage” or “irreconcilable differences.” If you believe your marriage is broken and that you and your spouse can’t reconcile, the law provides no way for your spouse to contest this.
Call your county courthouse to find out where you should file your petition. Some states require that you use the county where you live; in others, you must use the county where your spouse lives.
File your petition at the proper courthouse. Ask the court clerk to issue you a summons. This is a one-page form, preprinted by the court. It tells your spouse how long she has to respond to your divorce petition.
Call your county sheriff or hire a private process server to give a copy of your petition and the summons to your spouse. If you serve her with the papers by this method, she does not have to sign for them. The sheriff or the process server will sign a proof of service document and will usually submit it to the court on your behalf. The proof of service attests that the paperwork was given to your spouse and that she received it.
Return to the courthouse to request a default hearing date if your spouse does not answer your papers in the time allotted to her in your summons. This usually involves filing additional paperwork; the clerk can guide you to what your state requires for submission.
Tips & Warnings
If your spouse doesn’t answer your divorce papers, the court will usually grant you your divorce by default at the hearing, without her participation. She does not have to sign the final decree. However, most states will allow her to petition the court to vacate or set aside your default divorce judgment within a limited period of time if she decides, after the fact, that she wants to be involved after all.
If your spouse "dodges" service and manages to successfully avoid the sheriff or your process server, contact the court. It's usually possible to serve her by placing a notice in the newspaper when this happens.
References & Resources
- FreeAdvice: When a Spouse Does Not Sign Divorce Papers – Divorce by Default Proceeding
- Queens Legal Services Corporation: Divorce (PDF)
- FindLaw: Joint Divorce Petition
- Stephens Margolin: Divorce Myth – Your Spouse Can Block a Divorce by Objecting to It
- State of Idaho Fourth Judicial District Court: Default Divorce Procedures
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images