How to File for a Divorce Even When the Other Spouse Does Not Want to Sign the Papers

By Christine Funk, J.D.

How to File for a Divorce Even When the Other Spouse Does Not Want to Sign the Papers

By Christine Funk, J.D.

You do not actually need your spouse's signature in order to get a divorce, although it can expedite things. A spouse's signature is only required in cases where both parties agree to the terms and conditions of the divorce. If your spouse does not agree to the divorce or refuses to sign the papers, there is another approach you can take.

Woman working at a table signing paperwork

If you want to file for divorce on your own, follow these steps. But if you want more guidance or to save time, you may want to consult a divorce specialist.

1. Locate the necessary paperwork.

These days, most counties have their divorce forms online. Go to your county court's website and search for the paperwork you need. Some jurisdictions refer to the document as a divorce petition, where other jurisdictions refer to a divorce complaint.

2. Fill out the forms.

You must fill out the required forms in their entirety, providing information about you, your spouse, and your marriage. Part of this involves selecting the grounds, or reason, for the divorce. Fault grounds include adultery, abandonment, insanity, or physical or mental cruelty. Many states, however, are "no-fault" states, meaning there is no need to state fault grounds. This is often referred to as "irreconcilable differences" or an "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage." When filling out the forms, you must choose the appropriate fault grounds, even if it is the no-fault option. If you select a fault option, your spouse can contest your grounds by denying the claim. For this reason, choosing irreconcilable differences may be the more expedient option.

3. File the petition and pay the filing fee.

It is a good idea to reach out to your county to determine their rules for filing the divorce petition. You may be able to file your petition in the county where you reside or you may need to file the petition in the county where your spouse resides. Some states also require residency for a minimum amount of time before you can file for divorce.

Once you confirm where you can file the petition, either file it at the courthouse or online if your jurisdiction allows that. There is a fee that must accompany the petition.

4. Determine the steps for service.

"Service" is a legal term for delivering notice to someone of legal action taken against them. In a divorce, serving your spouse means giving them a copy of the divorce petition you filed and court summons. You can look on the court's website or ask a court clerk about the process for service. You may use a process server for this, and, typically, the sheriff's office also provides service. Expect to pay a fee for service as well.

Take the time necessary to ensure legal service. This is not the time to take short cuts. If you do not serve your spouse properly, you may have difficulty down the line. If you do not know where your spouse is, the court's website or court clerk can provide you with information about service by publication.

5. Attend the hearing.

Regardless of whether your spouse files a response to service, most jurisdictions require you to attend a hearing. If your spouse has not filed an answer, you will have a default hearing. If your spouse files an answer, you proceed in accordance with the rules of the jurisdiction. For example, many courts order the parties to attend mediation as a first step in attempting to resolve any issues between the parties. These issues may include the division of property and debts, child custody, child support, and alimony. Either in your default hearing or in a hearing after following the rest of your jurisdiction's process, the court issues a divorce decree to finalize the divorce.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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