I've filed for divorce, completed the paperwork, but my spouse won't sign. What are my options? Will the judge allow me to go on with the divorce?
Divorces, even those desired by both spouses, often get contentious. And if one spouse won't agree to end the marriage or is trying to avoid the divorce, the process may stretch out longer than expected.
Some resisting spouses can make the divorce process very difficult by refusing to sign the necessary divorce papers or by completely failing to respond to a request for a divorce. Others do so by hiding or trying to avoid "service" (meaning in-person delivery) of the divorce paperwork.
How a judge will treat these situations depends on where you live: some states will allow the divorce to proceed "uncontested," while others allow the petitioning spouse (the spouse asking for the divorce) to obtain a "default divorce."
The easiest type of divorce is an "uncontested" divorce, which means both spouses have filed the necessary paperwork (a divorce petition and a response) and they agree to all divorce-related issues, such as alimony (spousal support), child custody and support, and the division of property and debts.
Typically, if you and your spouse have reached an agreement, you can bring your agreement and any necessary divorce paperwork to court, where a judge will review the agreement, issue orders based on that agreement, and grant you a divorce. If the agreement involves child support and custody terms, judges will check to make sure your parenting agreement and the child support amount is in the best interests of the child and meets state guidelines.
If you served the divorce petition on your spouse, and he or she filed an uncontested response, but won't sign off on the final divorce papers, courts in some states may allow the case to proceed as though it's uncontested. You may wait to be assigned a court appearance date. If your spouse fails to show up in court on that date, the judge may treat the case as though it is uncontested and enter orders based on your divorce petition and the response.
If you have served your spouse properly, but he or she failed to file a written response on time, some states let you file a request to enter a default. A request to enter a default is allowed when one spouse has been served and fails to respond within 30 days. It is also allowed when a spouse cannot be located for service.
If you have served your spouse with the divorce petition and she or he has not responded to it within the statutory 30 days, you may file a request to enter a default along with a proposed judgment. The court will set a hearing date and ask that you appear. At the hearing the judge may issue a ruling based entirely on what is stated in your divorce petition (or based on what you proved to the court) and then issue your divorce orders and judgment. By failing to respond or appear, your spouse gives up the right to have any say in the divorce proceeding or court judgment.
If you have filed for divorce and are dealing with an uncooperative spouse, you should speak with an experienced divorce attorney to discuss the possibility of pursuing a default case.