Can I Still Get Divorced if My Ex Won't Sign the Papers?
“My partner won’t sign divorce papers and says he (or she) will make sure we don’t get divorced on my timeline.”
“My partner seemed to be on board with the divorce, and now won’t sign the paperwork with the terms we originally agreed to – I want out!”
Smedley Law Group founder AllynMarie Smedley, Esq. answers five questions we hear most often about what to do if your spouse refuses to sign the necessary paperwork to push through your divorce judgment. Don’t worry – it’s not as bleak as you may think.
Q: What are the most common scenarios where a client’s ex won’t sign divorce papers?
AS: A client asks me to draft a proposed agreement to resolve all the issues of their divorce. In that case, nothing gets filed with the court until after the agreement has been signed by both parties. After I draft the proposed agreement and send it out, my client’s ex-spouse usually signs or sends us proposed changes – but sometimes they totally ignore the agreement.
Q: OK, so what happens if your client’s spouse ignores the agreement?
AS: I can file for divorce on behalf of my client and serve the paperwork on their spouse, who then has 35 days to answer. Sometimes, my client’s partner refuses to accept the paperwork when we mail it or send it by a courier. If they don’t, we try additional methods to serve them the paperwork, such as having a law enforcement official serve them. Once my client’s spouse is finally in receipt of the filed complaint we’re serving, they have 35 days to answer. If they choose not to respond, we can file for default and proceed with a notice of proposed divorce judgment hearing without them. If we can’t locate a spouse, we usually file what’s called a motion for publication – that means we get permission to publish the complaint in the paper that’s in the location of the defendant’s last known address.
Q: What happens before and during that hearing?
AS: The court will set a hearing date and request that my client appear. Prior to the hearing, we prepare something called a Notice of Proposed Final Judgment – it’s a memo that outlines our position on the case and what relief we’re seeking. That’s sent to my client’s spouse 20 days prior to the hearing date. At that time, the judge will take testimony and review the evidence submitted to an issue a ruling based on exactly what we included in the divorce petition complaint and Notice of Proposed Final Judgment. Then, the judge will issue the final judgment of divorce – this includes the court’s decision on any issues like custody, child support, alimony, and equitable distribution.
Q: How do you advise clients who tell you that their spouse thinks they can prevent the divorce by not signing the papers?
AS: I explain to my clients that based on the way the law works, there’s nothing a spouse can do to prevent them from getting a divorce if that’s what they want. While a spouse may be able to frustrate or prolong the process, in the end, the divorce will always be granted. In the case that a spouse doesn’t want to sign papers because they think they can push a reconciliation, I recommend talking jointly with a therapist or a mediator. That way, each party can be heard, and the therapist can help address any fears about moving forward. If we’re attempting to negotiate an agreement, either prior to pursuing litigation or while in the midst of it, if we can’t reach a satisfactory agreement, we proceed to trial; either way, the divorce is granted.
Q: So then your clients shouldn’t worry that they won’t be able to get divorced?
AS: Yes, that’s true. If your spouse refuses to sign, you’ll eventually be able to get a divorce and move onto a new life. Going through a trial to get divorced when your spouse won’t sign will be more time-consuming and expensive, but you’ll score your divorce judgment. I always reiterate that no matter how much a spouse may want to prolong or delay the divorce process, ultimately they can’t stop it. That means if you want to be divorced, you will be able to get divorced.
If you need help with a family law matter, our attorneys at Smedley Law Group can provide you with the professional advice you need to make an educated decision. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today.