What Happens If a Person Refuses to Sign Divorce Papers?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

What Happens If a Person Refuses to Sign Divorce Papers?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Divorce is often an emotional, contentious, and stressful affair. Unfortunately, sometimes one spouse refuses to sign the divorce papers, further complicating matters. If your spouse will not sign your divorce papers, their refusal to do so can make the process longer and more expensive. The good news is that you can still get divorced, even if your spouse refuses to cooperate.

Man with hands crossed over a document and a woman handing him a pen

Because divorce law is state specific, this article only provides general information. Always check your state's laws and requirements to understand how those laws impact your situation.

Communication During Divorce and Default Divorce

Before assuming your spouse is acting unreasonably and refusing to sign your divorce papers out of malice or ill will toward you, it may help to try to talk to them. Sometimes, spouses going through a divorce find it difficult to communicate with each other. That lack of communication can lead to misunderstandings. There may be a relatively minor point of contention in your divorce plans at the root of the lack of communication. If you are able to come to an agreement, your spouse may be willing to sign the divorce papers and you can both move on with your lives.

But, if your spouse refuses to communicate or cooperate with your divorce filing, you may be able to get a default divorce. Under a default divorce, if your spouse does not respond to or contest your divorce petition and does not answer or participate in the proceedings, the divorce decree will be based on your (the filing spouse's) wishes, as set forth in the original petition.

Contested Divorce vs. Uncontested Divorce

If your efforts to negotiate and come to agreement with your spouse fail, your divorce can still proceed in one of several ways. If your spouse answered your original divorce petition contesting some or all of its provisions, talk to a divorce attorney in your state who can advise you on the best way to protect your rights.

If you filed for divorce and your spouse simply has not responded and fails to appear for your court hearing, the judge may order your divorce and handle it as an uncontested matter based on the original petition. In other cases, one spouse's failure to respond means the divorce is a contested proceeding. This can mean that the process may take longer and cost more.

Spouse Cannot Be Located

Sometimes, it is impossible to get your spouse's signature on your divorce papers because you do not know where they are. When one spouse abandons the other and cannot be located, courts may issue divorce judgments based on spousal abandonment. If your state's divorce laws provide for this type of divorce, you may need to wait months and take additional actions in an attempt to locate and notify your spouse of your intent to file for divorce.

Every state now offers no-fault divorce, which means neither spouse has to prove the other did anything wrong in the marriage. This lessens the likelihood of a spouse refusing to sign the divorce papers because of a perception that they were somehow responsible for ending the marriage.

If your spouse will not sign your divorce papers, know that you can still get divorced, although the process may take longer than you anticipated.

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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