What can I do if my spouse won’t sign the divorce papers?
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 a divorce settlement agreement on all of your issues, you can bring your agreement and any necessary divorce paperwork to court, where a judge will review it, 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 properly served the divorce petition and your spouse 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’s uncontested and enter orders based on your divorce petition and the response.
Request to Enter a Default
If you have served your spouse properly, and your spouse failed to file a written response on time, some states let you file a request to enter a default divorce. State and local rules may vary, but generally, if your spouse failed to respond to your divorce petition within 30 days, you may file a request to enter a default along with a proposed judgment. It may also be allowed when a spouse can’t be located for service.
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.
How to Obtain a Divorce When Spouse Refuses to Sign Divorce Papers
About the Author:
Based in the Appalachian Mountains, Brian Connolly is a certified nutritionist and has been writing professionally since 2000. He is a licensed yoga and martial arts instructor whose work regularly appears in “Metabolism,” “Verve” and publications throughout the East Coast. Connolly holds advanced degrees from the University of North Carolina, Asheville and the University of Virginia.
When it comes to the legal system, all divorce begins with a divorce petition. If your partner or spouse refuses to settle the current divorce agreement, your divorce will be considered a contested case and will generally require more time an energy than an uncontested divorce. The good news is that while your spouse may legally make your divorce more difficult, they cannot keep you married once you initiate the divorce proceedings. With patience, determination and a willingness to study the laws, practically anyone can take the steps to resolving their divorce case.
Contact your spouse and discover their reasons for refusing to sign the divorce document. Find out if there are specific requests that you feel comfortable meeting to obtain their compliance and decide whether you are willing to meet their demands.
Call your local courthouse and discover the procedure for filing a petition against your spouse. Determine which court you must use to make your claim–generally a family court–and fill out the petition stating that the marriage has dissolved. Include the basis for divorce if requested on the petition form.
Complete the necessary legal follow-ups, such as a review of the shared assets and property owned by you and your spouse. Carefully read any documents sent to you in regards to the legal requirements of child support, visitation and custody, and contact your spouse to discuss the legal divisions.
Prepare the evidence for the basis of divorce along with any other issues that may require legal resolution during the divorce case. Hire a lawyer to represent your case if desired and present your information in the court of law. Once you and your partner have presented your cases in turn, you will receive a determination of the divorce and a judgment for divorce issued by the court.
Follow up the legal decision by transferring any deeds, property or assets and paying any child support as required by law.
Make sure you fill out all of the requested information on the petition form to ensure an accurate court assessment. Include any requested details, such as separate and community property, child custody and child or spousal support.
Signing Divorce Papers
Signing divorce papers is one of the last steps in finalizing your divorce. If you’re unfamiliar with how a divorce proceeds and the steps that are involved, you can find a more detailed explanation by reading this article on the divorce process.
The following information answers the most common questions about signing divorce papers, such as what to do if your husband won’t sign divorce papers, how can a divorce be finalized even if one spouse doesn’t sign, and more:
Can I still get divorced if my husband won’t sign the papers?
Heather’s Question: I don’t think that my husband will sign the papers. How do I go about getting the divorce if he won’t sign them?
Brette’s Answer: You can get the divorce proceeding started on your own or with the help of a lawyer. Your husband will then have to be served with the divorce petition and a court appearance will be scheduled. If he still refuses to sign, your case will proceed as a contested divorce and he will have to explain to the judge why he won’t consent to the divorce.
How can I get him to sign divorce papers if he refuses?
Karan’s Question: According to our religion I need my husband’s signature on the divorce papers. I already filed the case and he has been served by the sheriff, but he said that he is not going to court. How can I get him to sign?
Brette’s Answer: You don’t need him to agree to obtain a legal divorce. He has been served and if he decides not to respond or appear, that’s up to him. A religious divorce is an entirely different matter and is one you should take up with your local religious leader.
Do I need to see an attorney before I sign?
Thana’s Question: My husband and I don’t have a lot, just our personal things and the condo we are paying on. He says that I don’t need a lawyer because his lawyer will get all the papers ready for us to sign. Should I need to see an attorney before I sign anything?
Brette’s Answer: It’s always a good idea to have a lawyer review the documents before you sign them. If there isn’t a lot to divide and you’re in agreement, and the paperwork makes sense to you, you could decide to use your own judgment. It wouldn’t cost much to pay someone to review the papers for you though, so I do recommend that. Many attorneys will be happy to bill you for just an hour of their time to discuss something like this. Call around and get some rates.
What if his lawyer won’t let me review the papers before signing?
D’s Question: My husband hired an attorney and had paperwork filled out. I have received a letter requesting to come in and sign but have asked for the papers to be mailed emailed or even wanted to pick them up so I could look them over. I was told no on the mailing or email, and cannot get a response about picking them up to be looked over. What should I do? We have only been married 10 months.
Brette’s Answer: You should be able to stop there and get a copy although it is ridiculous that they won’t send you a copy.
Is it okay to sign the papers and then get a lawyer to contest it?
Michelle’s Question: My husband gave me papers to sign for our divorce he initiated. He said the one attorney would represent both of us. As I read the paper work it says the attorney only represents him. Can I obtain an attorney of my own and contest what’s in the divorce papers even if I sign them?
Brette’s Answer: You should not sign anything without consulting your own attorney.
I don’t agree with the divorce papers. Will I have to sign them?
Sherri Asks: My husband wants a divorce and I don’t. Will I have to sign the divorce papers and what are the guidelines that have to be followed in this case?
Brette Answers: You don’t have to sign papers agreeing to anything. But, you do need to respond to the petition when it is filed in order to contest the divorce. It is your right to go to court and ask the judge to decide the case.
What happens if I don’t want to sign the stipulation papers?
Brandy’s Question: The divorce settlement conference was completed and both parties came to an agreement. I received a notification that both parties need to go to the court house for us to sign the stipulation then the judge will sign off on it. If the agreement that we came up with has changed can we go back to the settlement conference/mediation? The other party wants to keep the agreement the way it is and I don’t since the other party didn’t keep to what we agreed on.
Brette’s Answer: You should let the court know that you would like to go to a settlement conference instead of just coming in to sign.
How could the divorce go through if I didn’t sign anything?
Rose’s Question: My husband served me with papers six years ago after being married for 5 years. I didn’t sign because he didn’t want to give me the annuity I was entitled to. I never heard anything since. I recently heard that he was getting remarried this coming month. how is this possible?
Brette’s Answer: If you were properly served and did not respond or appear, the case probably continued as an uncontested case – meaning it was decided without you. You can get a copy of the finalized divorce from the court clerk where it was filed. A copy should have been sent to you.
How can someone divorce you if you never signed anything?
Lydia’s Question: I did not want a divorce but my husband filed. Throughout the court proceedings I kept expecting to sign something. I was not asked to sign any papers and yet was given a divorce. I hear all the time about people "signing papers" but never signed any agreement or anything to do with the divorce. How can someone divorce you and you never sign anything?
Brette’s Answer: It varies by state. You only sign papers if you are agreeing to what your spouse is asking for or agreeing to a settlement. If you go through a court proceeding, you appear in person and the judge makes the decision.
Forged Divorce Papers
Eva’s Question: My ex told me his lawyer drew up some papers to finalize our divorce and asked if I would sign them. When the papers arrived, I noticed a lot of discrepancies in the documents and I think they are forged. I’m not signing anything that is different than the original dates and so forth. Can the courts make a judgment without me knowing? Should I contact his attorney (he is local) to show him copies of the papers? I have a feeling he didn’t draw them up.
Brette’s Answer: It sounds like you have serious questions about these papers. You should definitely contact your ex’s attorney and find out what the situation is. A court won’t make a ruling without giving you legal notice and a chance to appear.
What if the signature on the petition isn’t mine?
Gigi’s Question: The signature in the divorce petition is not mine. My husband is the petitioner. What do I do?
Brette: If in fact you did not sign the papers and did not participate in the process, there is an issue. Get an attorney if at all possible. If not, you need to file a motion to have it removed. Good luck.
What if he says someone forged his signature?
Angela’s Question: I’m getting remarried in June, and my ex called me stating that he did not sign the paperwork and that someone else did. I don’t want to get married in June to find out that I was never divorced in the first place. Is there a way that I can delete this divorce and do it again before June? Please help me, I’m running out of time.
Brette’s Answer: The first question I would have is if he didn’t sign it, then who did? In most cases if this happens it’s because the other party forged the name – but since you didn’t then who would and why would they bother? It doesn’t make sense. And how does he know there are papers if he never received them? This sounds a bit odd to me. Could he be lying so you feel you can’t remarry? To do it again, you’ll have to go to court and have him let the court know he never signed them and then have the papers signed by him. I think you should get a consultation with an attorney who can examine the papers that were filed as well as the affidavits of service and help you figure out what to do.
Can I sign divorce papers for him if I have power of attorney?
Lydia’s Question: My husband is incarcerated and I have filed for divorce. He is disputing it and won’t sign. I have his general durable power of attorney, so can I sign the divorce papers for him?
Brette’s Answer: Even if your power of attorney is valid, you can’t use it to sign the divorce papers.