What To Do If Spouse Does Not Want to Sign Divorce Papers

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  2. What To Do If Spouse Does Not Want to Sign Divorce Papers
Unhappy mature couple sitting beside one another in bed. | New Direction Family Law

The decision to end a marriage is not always amicable between both parties. The dynamics of a relationship, financial dependence, children, and more can complicate the divorce process. Because divorces can be difficult and full of conflict, a spouse may not want to sign the divorce papers. However, the lack of cooperation from one party will not stop the divorce from being finalized. 

Whether you are struggling with a spouse who won’t sign the divorce papers or are worried you may find yourself in this situation, we’ve outlined some options to help you through the divorce proceedings.

Why Your Spouse May Refuse to Sign Divorce Papers

While it’s easy to feel frustrated and helpless when your spouse won’t cooperate, it’s beneficial to understand the reasons behind your spouse’s reluctance. Here are some common factors that may contribute to their refusal to sign divorce papers.

Emotional Attachment

Your spouse may still have emotional ties to the relationship and be unwilling to let go. They might harbor hopes of reconciliation or fear the unknown that comes with finalizing the divorce.

Financial Concerns

Divorce can have significant financial implications, including dividing assets, paying alimony or child support, and adjusting to a new financial reality. Your spouse may be hesitant to sign the papers due to concerns about their financial future.

Child Custody and Support

If children are involved, disputes over custody and child support can prolong the divorce process. Your spouse may refuse to sign the papers as a way to negotiate more favorable terms regarding custody or support arrangements.

Anger or Resentment

Feelings of anger, resentment, or betrayal can lead your spouse to resist cooperating in the divorce proceedings. They may view signing the papers as conceding defeat or admitting fault, prolonging the process as a way to express their emotions.

Legal Strategy

In some cases, your spouse’s refusal to sign may be a strategic move orchestrated by their legal counsel. They may believe that delaying the divorce could lead to a more favorable outcome in terms of asset division, alimony, or child custody. It’s important to seek the help of an experienced divorce attorney when you are going through this adversarial process. 

What Happens If Your Spouse Doesn’t Desire a Divorce?

North Carolina is an absolute divorce state, which means our courts do not look at the desires of the spouses or the reasons for the dissolution of their relationship. Instead, if one spouse can demonstrate that he or she has been separated from the other spouse for at least one year and that he or she had the intent to remain permanently separate and apart from the other spouse during that year-long separation, then a court must grant the divorce. 

In other words, a court is concerned that a couple has lived “separate and apart” in separate residences for an uninterrupted year, and not whether both spouses desire a divorce.

Filing a Petition for Divorce

Filing a petition for divorce is a pivotal step forward, even if your spouse is hesitant to cooperate. This legal document initiates the divorce process by formally notifying the court of your intention to dissolve the marriage. Once filed, yout will have to ensure that your spouse receives a copy of the petition, typically through official channels like mail, the Sheriff’s office, or a process server.

In response to the petition, your spouse will be given a designated period to provide their formal reply. If they choose not to respond within the stipulated time frame, the court may proceed with the divorce proceedings regardless. Your spouse’s lack of response doesn’t halt the process entirely; rather, it signifies their decision not to contest the divorce or engage actively in the legal proceedings.

Temporary Orders

Notably, in truly contentious separations, it may be necessary for a spouse to seek a “Divorce from Bed and Board” to separate from their spouse. A divorce from bed and board is not a divorce at all; it’s essentially a court-ordered legal separation that a victim spouse can seek against the will of the other spouse. 

The spouse who requests a divorce from bed and board must prove that the other spouse committed marital misconduct for a judge to order him or her out of the residence. Marital misconduct includes circumstances of abandonment, “malicious turning out of doors,” making the other spouse’s life overly burdensome or intolerable, and alcohol or drug addiction. These orders can include restraining orders, protective orders, property orders, alimony, child custody, and child support.

When a Spouse Has Disappeared or Evades Service

Despite that North Carolina is an absolute divorce state, there are still procedures that must be adhered to so that each spouse’s fundamental rights are protected. One of these is the requirement that an opposing party is “served” with the lawsuit, so that he or she is aware of what he or she is facing legally. The failure to obtain proper service of process means that a court lacks the authority (or “jurisdiction”) to enter enforceable orders affecting that person.

Sadly, we have encountered situations where spouses cannot be served in person with a lawsuit. The reasons for this are all over the place, from the couple drifting apart to the extent that a spouse cannot be located to a spouse avoiding service because he or she doesn’t want a divorce. If a spouse cannot be personally served after diligent efforts, then there are other methods of service that a court can authorize, such as substituted service or service by publication.

Notably, if a spouse is served through one of the legally permissible methods, yet fails to respond to the lawsuit, then the spouse seeking the divorce can seek a “default” judgment. Essentially, if a spouse ignores a lawsuit, then he or she waives the right to defend himself or herself from a judgment.

Contact New Direction Family Law Attorneys

When a spouse doesn’t want to sign the divorce papers, there is greater stress on the entire family. At New Direction Family Law, our attorneys sympathize with all of the worry and heartache that accompanies this difficult moment in your life. With decades of combined experience, our attorneys know what it takes to help resolve all of the issues surrounding divorce. 

Our team of attorneys and client specialists will listen to you and passionately advocate for your legal interests. If you want to obtain a divorce, we’ll help you reach a powerful outcome for you and your family. Contact us at (919) 646-3858 to schedule an appointment or fill out our contact form today.

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