A spouse does not need to sign the divorce papers for a divorce decree to be finalized. Here’s what you need to know about what to do if your spouse refuses to sign divorce papers.

Many states are “no-fault” states meaning that fault does not need to be proven to be granted a divorce. One may simply state that they feel the marriage is unsalvageable and continue to file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the courts which can be done without a spouse’s signature.

General Divorce Steps

1. File a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage

May be found at a local county clerk’s office or online through one’s local county or state website.

2. After filing, the paperwork will be served to the spouse by a process server

Based on jurisdiction, a server will be assigned or one can complete the process through a local sheriff’s department or process server agency

3. Wait for a Response

They will either respond to the filing by adhering or contesting or they may refuse to respond. If they fail to respond within 20 days, the court will rule it to be an uncontested divorce.

4. Back to Court

Assuming the spouse does not file a response, a judge will file a default hearing on the uncontested divorce. In some states, the judge will not automatically file a default hearing so be ready to file a request to enter a default along with a proposed divorce judgment if the spouse has not responded within 30 days of service. Make sure to attend and request the divorce in person; the court will then ask about matters regarding property division and child custody. In the absence of the spouse, the court will generally grant the reasonable requests of whichever spouse has appeared at the default hearing.

Related: Types of Divorce: What Are My Divorce Options?

Understanding a Contested Divorce

If one individual is pursuing a divorce, they will get this granted whether the other individual signs the papers or not. However, if the spouse comes to court and contests it, it then becomes a contested divorce at this point. A contested divorce is when one or both spouses dispute an aspect of their divorce and these divorce proceedings take much longer to complete, involve greater stress, and rack up increased legal fees. With a contested divorce, spouses will have to go through numerous steps before the divorce is finalized, including the following:

  • Prepare, file, and serve the divorce petition

There is specific legal paperwork that must be filed that formerly requests the divorce and states the grounds for the breakdown            of the marriage

  • Respond to the petition
  • Interview and hire an attorney
  • Engage in “divorce discovery”

The information-gathering process involves various legal procedures to ascertain information from their spouse and third-party                witnesses such as written questions, subpoenas, and depositions

  • Pre-trial legal motions and hearings
  • Settlement proposals and negotiations between attorneys
  • Prepare for trial (if settlement fails)

During the trial, both spouses present witnesses, and their lawyers cross-examine the witnesses and present closing arguments.

  • Complete a court trial

After the trial is over, the court will issue a final order memorializing all of the judge’s decisions and finalizing the divorce

  • File an appeal (if disputing the trial judge’s decision)
  • During the settlement phase, spouses are often unable to resolve issues. While a judge may encourage spouses to mend their issues, divorce court is the next step

Related: Contested and Uncontested Divorce: The Difference

Resolve Issues Through Meditation

Mediation is always another option to solve marital problems. It is a good idea if a spouse is in denial about the divorce and needs to talk it out before agreeing to it or if there are disputes that need to be resolved. A neutral third party may help spouses navigate divorce issues and the allocation of assets fairly and collaboratively.

What To Do When a Spouse is M.I.A

Those unable to locate their spouse may ask the court for permission to use another method for giving notice that the divorce petition has been filed. This will generally involve proving to the court that the filer made several serious attempts to find their spouse but still was unable to reach them. A judge will decide whether to grant the request and which form of alternative service to allow. The most common form is service by a publication which is publishing a notice in a newspaper.

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