What Can I Do if My Spouse Won’t Sign Divorce Papers?

It’s a common plot device that we see all the time in TV and movies: the one spouse that won’t sign the “divorce papers.” In nearly all examples, the mysterious “divorce papers” are never identified, and instead they are simply a tangible stand-in to dramatize the decision to end a marriage once and for all. As with most types of legal issues shown on screen, you should not take too much legal guidance from what you might see on TV and the movies as they are usually written from the perspective of someone with no legal background, but these types of scenes do point to a challenging real, life situation: a spouse who does not want to cooperate with the other spouse in moving along with the legal documentation necessary for a divorce. As divorce attorneys in Pasadena, we do commonly see situations in which one spouse makes the divorce process difficult for the other spouse, but there are strategies one can take in response, and one spouse cannot ultimately stand in the way of a divorce.

A Judge Will Grant a Divorce Even if One Party Objects

We are a long ways away from the era in which one spouse could prevent the other spouse from obtaining a divorce. It used to be that divorces were only granted when fault such as abandonment or adultery could be proved, but California paved the way for “no fault divorces” in the 1970s by allowing divorce in any situation in which either party requests the divorce, regardless of whether the other spouse approves.

What this means is that, ultimately, you will not be stuck in a marriage simply because of the fact your spouse will not sign his or her name on a dotted line. But a spouse’s reluctance to sign a document can present delays and other issues, depending on the type of “divorce papers” at issue. Documents that another spouses will need to sign fall into two main categories: procedural documents and a final settlement agreement.

Refusing to Sign Procedural Documents

Among the papers that a spouse will need to sign in California is the response to the petition that you file with the court requesting the divorce, and which you will have served on the other spouse with a summons. If your spouse decides to ignore the petition and not file a response, though, this will only hurt your spouse as the court can then proceed to award you the requested relief you seek in your petition - including property distribution and spousal support - without receiving any input from the other spouse.

Likewise your spouse will need to file an income and expense declaration with the court, but failing to do so will only hurt his or her interests as the court will then just rely on your representations and your attorneys’ arguments in making orders on financial issues.

Refusing to Sign a Settlement Agreement

When people refer to one spouse “refusing to sign divorce papers” they are most likely referencing one spouse refusing to sign a settlement agreement, which dictates how all community property should be divided between the spouses, and which can also dictate the provision of spousal support as well as terms for child custody and child support.

You cannot force another spouse to sign such an agreement, and they have the right to refuse to do so, but that refusal will mean that a state court judge will have to make decisions on these issues after hearing evidence and arguments from both parties. This can become quite expensive and it will put these decisions in the hands of the judge as opposed to the two of you.

In such situations, you can provide your spouse and time to take the difficult step of finalizing such an agreement, but, if that does not work, your lawyer can assert pressure by pursuing strategies to obtain a more beneficial (and detrimental to the other party) outcome at trial. Unfortunately, divorce proceedings do sometimes come to this, but having an experienced divorce attorney on your side is one of the most important things you can do to protect your interests and those of your children when a stubborn spouse will not sign.

Experienced Representation in Your California Divorce

Because the court has great discretion in awarding spousal support,  it is important that you put your best argument forward and/or can negotiate a fair and just outcome that suits your needs. At Kearney | Baker, our Pasadena family law attorneys have 60 years of combined experience in reaching positive outcomes on behalf of our clients in divorce matters. Contact us today to schedule a consultation to discuss your circumstances.