There is a common misconception that your spouse must agree to a divorce in order for it to proceed. While it certainly helps to have a spouse sign off on a divorce, in Washington you can still get divorced even if your spouse is uncooperative. That can happen in several different ways, depending on the actions your spouse takes or fails to take. An experienced divorce attorney can walk you through the various options available in detail and suggest which ones may be best suited for your case.
When Your Spouse Cooperates
An uncontested divorce is where the divorcing spouses agree to divorce. In these situations, obtaining your spouse’s signature is typically not an issue. In fact, proceeding collaboratively may even be an option.
If the two parties are able to agree to get divorced and as to the terms of the divorce, then it can all be done by signature. We would ask your spouse to sign a document showing they received the initial papers (including the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage), or even to sign the Petition as a co-petitioner with you. Then when we have the final divorce orders prepared, we ask both parties to sign the orders showing that they are agreed.
To finalize the divorce, we are required to show the court that the spouse has been given notice of the divorce action and that they agree to the terms. As a result, all documents will eventually be submitted to the court for approval. The advantage of this process is that it minimizes the amount of time arguing over terms and requires only minimal involvement from the judge. As a result, both parties can save a significant amount of time and money.
When Your Spouse Will Not Cooperate
Your spouse may refuse to cooperate from the very start or they may change their minds about their cooperation at any point in the process. Your spouse’s refusal to cooperate may be for any number of reasons, but the important thing to remember is that you have options.
If your spouse is uncooperative and will not sign a receipt for the initial documents, then we need to have that spouse served with the Summons and Petition. This means that we have a process server find your spouse and hand the papers to him or her, and then file an affidavit with the court stating that the papers were served. In other words, your spouse can be made a party to the divorce proceeding despite their refusal to cooperate.
If the spouse has moved to an unknown location or otherwise cannot be found, then we may ask the court to allow a form of alternate service, such as posting notice in a newspaper or mailing the papers to the person’s last known address. Once this has been done, your spouse will be considered to have received notice of the divorce proceeding and your case can now proceed.
Once the initial papers have been served, the spouse has a certain time period (typically 20 days) to file a Response to the Petition. If they do not file a Response, then we can bring a motion for an Order of Default, which allows us to complete the divorce without them.
If they do file a Response, they have now chosen to involve themselves in the case. This means that to complete the divorce, we either have to come to a settlement agreement and have both parties sign off on it, or we proceed to trial to have a judge determine the terms of the divorce
An Experienced Divorce Lawyer Can Help You Navigate the Challenges
As you can see, your spouse cannot keep you from getting a divorce by not cooperating. If they do not choose to involve themselves at all, then the divorce can be accomplished by default. If they get involved but won’t come to an agreement on the terms, a judge will determine the terms for them and enter a divorce decree.
The difficulty is knowing which steps to take and when. As noted above, your spouse who previously agreed to the divorce may suddenly stop participating. A lawyer can help you quickly shift tactics so that the process can proceed smoothly and with minimal delay. This is particularly important if there are children involved.
When An Uncooperative Spouse Becomes Adversarial
It is also important to keep in mind that being uncooperative isn’t just being unresponsive. Spouses can sometimes become suddenly adversarial, and they may refuse to sign anything unless you agree to their terms. The situation can quickly become intimidating, and people will often sign away important rights thinking that they have no choice. Your lawyer can possibly help you negotiate a resolution that is fair or protect your rights in the event that litigation becomes unavoidable.
Contact Seattle Divorce Services for Help With Your Divorce
The divorce process is complex under any circumstances but can become far more challenging when your spouse refuses to sign papers. We can help you navigate the emotional, financial, and practical challenges involved in your case, and keep your case moving even if your spouse refuses to cooperate or even participate. Call us at 206-784-3049 or contact us online to schedule an appointment to discuss your goals and how we can help you start moving forward.