This question can refer to two very different sets of divorce papers.
One is the initial papers filing for divorce, and one is the final order completing the divorce; and of course, I am only discussing this from the perspective of divorce in Washington State. The law in other states or countries may be different.
The short answer to the first set is that you do not need the other spouse to sign the initial filing documents.
When filing for a divorce, there is an option to have both parties sign the papers and file them together. These papers may set out an agreed final settlement, or they may merely state that a divorce action should be started.
There is also an option for one spouse to file them and ask the other spouse to sign a document accepting service (delivery) of the papers.
It may help if you explain to a reluctant spouse that they are not agreeing to anything in the papers by signing the Acceptance of Service, they are ONLY agreeing that they received the papers. It may also be a good idea to suggest they show the papers to an attorney if they are concerned about signing. The attorney can help them understand that nothing is gained by refusing to accept service.
However, if the other spouse is not willing to sign anything, you can still have the papers served on them. The person serving the papers needs to be adult and not related to the case (i.e. you can’t serve them yourself).
After they have served the papers, they file an affidavit with the court stating the time, date, and location of service, as well as what documents where served. Usually I find that it is best to have a professional process server handle the service.
As to final papers, obtaining a signature from the other spouse is again not mandatory.
There are several options, and only one requires the spouse’s signature.
One option is that the spouse may have been served with the initial papers but never filed a response. In that case you can complete the case by default without their signature or reaching any agreement with them.
If the two of you do reach an agreement on the terms of the divorce, then that agreement will need to be set out in the final orders and signed by both of you. That can then be entered with the court to finalize the divorce.
However, if your spouse (who had filed a response to the initial petition for divorce) will not come to agreement or sign agreed final orders, then you can proceed to trial and the court will determine what the final divorce terms should be.
Usually when facing trial, a reluctant spouse will realize the need to negotiate terms and try to reach a settlement.
If you are trying to get your spouse to reach agreement to avoid going to trial, and they are reluctant to settle, you could try several things:
One is simply to try to have a discussion about what their fears and concerns are and see if you can find a way to address those fears and concerns so that they will be willing to settle.
A more formal approach is to ask them to engage in mediation to help them develop a settlement they can feel comfortable with. Just keep in mind you can’t MAKE the other party come to agreement, you can only INDUCE them to come to agreement.