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How was the divorce finalized if I didn’t sign any papers?

July 1, 2018

Every state allows for divorce without the consent of the spouse. In the past, it was true that when one’s spouse refused to agree to the divorce or sign divorce papers, the process was delayed or it became very complicated with having to prove that the other spouse was at fault for the failure of the marriage. However, that is not the case today. It is important to know that when children or a significant amount of property are involved, the process could be more complex, but not to the point where it is too burdensome to continue. All 50 states allow for no fault divorces in which the process is simpler for those that are pursing a divorce as there is no burden of proof that the parties did anything wrong. One party can simply be unhappy and be granted a divorce. In some cases, a divorce can be finalized without the other party having to sign anything.

The typical divorce process is that the spouse seeking the divorce, the petitioner, has to complete the divorce paperwork as required by their county. They can do this with or without the assistance of an attorney. A copy of this paperwork is required to be given to the respondent spouse. Usually this is done through certified mail, the sheriff’s office, or a licensed process server. This is documentation to the spouse that their wife/husband has filed for divorce. The papers detail what the petitioning spouse is asking for in terms of division of property, child custody, visitation and any spousal support. This is required so that the respondent can see what the petitioner is asking for and they can either disagree and suggest changes, or agree with what the petitioner has listed and appear it court to let the judge know of their desired changes. If the location of the spouse is not known which prevents them from being served with divorce papers, the court may allow for a notification in a newspaper to be considered as service.

The respondent has a specified time frame in which they can respond to the divorce petition that they were served or what they received via certified mail. They can agree to everything or have changes they want to be made. Even if the respondent does not want a divorce, under the provisions of a no fault divorce, only one spouse has to want a divorce in order for it to be granted. If the respondent does not file an answer with the court, the court can grant the divorce anyway and will likely agree to the provisions the petitioner stated in the papers as long as they are reasonable. In this case, a divorce is granted and the other spouse never signed any papers, nor did they appear in court. The same can be true if the petitioner did not show up in court. The judge could award the divorce and the suggested changes made by the petitioner and the petitioner would be divorced without ever going to court. Simply not showing up in court or responding to divorce papers, does not stop the divorce from taking place.

In general, judges do not allow for one party to delay the granting of a divorce. While each state has their own requirements, it may be that the parties have to attend mediation or parenting classes. Again, judges can grant divorces even though one spouse does not participate in these requirements. It is possible that the party that does not fulfill the requirements not only find themselves divorced, but also find themselves being charged with contempt of court for not doing what the court has required.

After the court receives the divorce papers from the petitioner, a hearing will likely be set. The court will notify both parties of the date and time of the hearing. Again, if the petitioner (or respondent) is the only one to attend the hearing, the divorce can still be granted. The court will notify the parties according to their last known address. Direct service of paperwork by the court is not required, meaning that the court does not have to use a process server or the sheriff’s office to deliver paperwork.

The process above demonstrates that a divorce can be granted without one ever signing any papers. The law does not allow for a person to prevent a divorce from happening if the other spouse desires one. However, the law does require that an attempt be made to notify the respondent of the spouse’s filing of divorce papers. The divorce process can be completed with or without an attorney. Most counties have a divorce liaison that helps people complete their divorce paperwork that do not have an attorney.

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