How to Divorce If a Spouse Won't Sign Papers

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on March 14, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Once you were very close and you left each other notes, signed "Yours Forever." But now your true love is long gone and you need to move on. How do you get a divorce if your spouse refuses to sign papers or is just not around to participate in the process?

Fear not. There is a way. Although divorce laws vary from state to state, every place allows for the possibility of a reluctant or even absent spouse. Generally speaking, if you follow the rules of service of process and file court papers in a timely fashion, you're fine. Ensure that the appropriate party has been notified by one of the many means available and you should be able to get a divorce by default.

Silver Linings

In some senses, a spouse who refuses to participate in the divorce process is better for you than one who is in too deep. Having an absent partner is difficult but less so than a really pushy one. And obtaining a default divorce can be relatively simple. The non-participation of the partner singles indifference to the courts and -- if you follow all the necessary steps -- you can get the papers you need to move on with your life independently.

Service of Process

Perhaps you've heard the term "you've been served." It signals that legal papers have been presented to you and now you are notified that a complaint of some kind is pending. If a spouse takes off that does not mean you are stuck until you can personally serve them. There is process by publication, which is a way to notify generally when personal service is impossible.

Every state has its own divorce laws and rules of civil procedure, which outline the appropriate way to notify parties of divorce. But generally speaking, they all provide alternatives so that serving a person with a lawsuit does not become an obstacle to resolution.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you or someone you know is getting divorced and you are dealing with a reluctant spouse or someone who has just plain disappeared, talk to a lawyer. Many attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to assess your case. Get advice on the best approach to your divorce.

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