When couples get divorced in movies and television shows, there's often a moment in which one party finally signs a set of divorce papers, thus signaling the end of the relationship. While this can make for great storytelling, it's not how real-life divorces work. Getting a divorce is often a difficult period in your life and becomes even harder when the decision to end the marriage was not your own.
Some spouses will avoid talking about a divorce and ignore the divorce paperwork after they get served. If you have filed for a divorce, completed the paperwork, but now your spouse refuses to sign the divorce papers, what are your options?
Even in a situation where a divorce is wanted by both spouses, they can still become hotly debated. If one spouse won't make an agreement on how to end the marriage, the divorce process can drag on longer than expected.
There are situations when a spouse wants to make the divorce process difficult by simply refusing to sign the divorce papers, fails to respond to a request for a divorce, or even attempt to avoid being served with divorce paperwork.
Ignoring the fact that your spouse filed a petition for divorce could delay the process, but it won't stop it from being completed. How a judge will treat these situations will depend on how the respondent reacts after being served. In California, there are contested divorces and uncontested divorces.
You typically have 30 days to respond to divorce papers. If you fail to respond, the family court judge can issue default judgment, which means the terms proposed by your spouse will be granted. It also means you will lose the opportunity to contest the terms and your divorce will be finalized in spite of your efforts to make it stop.
A Los Angeles divorce law firm can help you navigate the complex process of getting a divorce, even if your spouse refuses to sign paperwork. To give readers more useful information, our California divorce lawyers are providing a review below.
California is a No-Fault Divorce State
In 1970, California became the first state in the United States to offer no-fault divorce. Now, almost all states allow people to get divorced without having to prove why the marriage ended. You may often see this cited as “irreconcilable differences.”
Because California is a no-fault state, you do not have to prove that you or your spouse are “guilty” for ending the marriage. Furthermore, you do not need your spouse's permission to obtain a divorce. That's right, though it's not common, you can legally get a divorce without having your spouse's signature on a single piece of paper.
As stated, if you don't respond to your spouse petition for divorce or separation or you file a response but don't reach an agreement, your divorce will be considered a “true default” or an “uncontested case.”
A default means you are giving up your legal right to make any decisions in divorce case. It's crucial to note that before you decide to take this action, you need to closely examine the divorce paperwork that was filed by your spouse. By failing to respond, then whatever you spouse is requesting will typically be granted by the court.
What “Divorce Papers” Need a Signature in California?
When you file for a divorce, the court requires you to do two things:
- File the petition with the court
- Ensure the non-filing spouse receives the corresponding summons and petition
To fulfill the second requirement, the court needs someone to sign the “proof of service” (Form FL-115) document that states that the non-filing spouse received the paperwork.
Ideally, the spouse that files the petition would talk to their spouse about the divorce before serving papers.
Then, the non-filing spouse would sign the proof of service, and the divorce proceedings can continue with both parties. However, we know that it's not always possible or safe for things to work this way.
Serving Papers to an Uncooperative Spouse
There may be many reasons you do not want to serve these papers to your spouse on your own. For example, you may anticipate that your spouse could have a violent or volatile reaction.
Furthermore, a spouse could simply refuse to sign the acknowledgment that you served the papers–and you can't force them to sign it. In California, you do not need to be the one to serve your spouse. Instead, you can have any of the following people serve the papers:
- A friend or family member who is over the age of 18 (but not a child from the marriage)
- A process server
- A sheriff
If one of these third parties serves the papers, your spouse does not need to sign anything. Instead, the person who served the papers signs the proof of service, which meets the court's requirements.
Proceeding with a Divorce and Uncooperative Spouse
Once the petition and summons are served, the non-filing spouse has 30 days to respond. In the response, the spouse details what he or she wants in terms of the division of assets, child custody, alimony, or other legal issues that come up with divorce.
If your spouse files a response within that 30-day limit, you will go through what's known as a “contested divorce.” Your California family law firm will help you try to reach a settlement with your spouse. This settlement is a deal between the divorcing spouse that settles the issues like child custody and asset division.
If the negotiations fail, the divorce will go to trial. Despite what television shows would have people believe, messy divorces that go through long trials are rare. Courts have little tolerance for stall tactics and refusals to cooperate.
If Your Spouse Won't Respond
What if your spouse not only refuses to sign the proof of service but also refuses to respond to the petition? Your spouse may want to stay married and thus refuses to accept the situation, for example. Don't worry–you do not have to stay in an unhappy marriage.
As stated, if the non-filing spouse fails to respond to a petition within 30 days, the court will grant what's known as a “default” divorce. In this case, the court will decide on things such as:
- Division of property
- Child custody
- Division of assets
In many cases, the court will agree to the requests in the original petition, so long as these requests fall within the state's laws about these issues. Once the court decides these things, it will grant the divorce, and you will no longer be married.
Retain a Los Angeles Divorce Attorney
Many believe their spouse's lack of consent will delay their divorce, but this is not always true. A contested divorce can take many months to finalize, but if your spouse decides not to cooperate, it could actually speed up the process.
You will still have to fulfill the statutory waiting period to get a divorce, but you won't have to wait for an excessive amount of time in the event your spouse refuses to sign the divorce paperwork.
As you can see, California divorce laws can be complicated, and there are many “what if” scenarios. Our divorce lawyers can help you through this challenging time in your life, whether your spouse chooses to cooperate or not.
Furman & Zavatsky are Los Angeles divorce and family law attorneys located in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County. Our office is located at 15821 Ventura Blvd #690 Encino, CA 91436. Contact us for a free case evaluation at (818) 528-3471.