There are many reasons why a separating spouse will not sign divorce papers. They may not agree with the terms, might want the other spouse to wait, or could even be unreachable. Spouses that want to avoid divorce may think that not signing will stretch out the process and maybe even cause the other person to reconsider. The spouse that files the papers will have recourse in these situations, although it can vary by state.
Petitions and Paperwork
A first step toward a divorce is the initial petition, completed by one spouse, the petitioner, and served to the other, the respondent. It is filed in state court, and includes details about parties, children, custody, support, and property. The respondent may not agree to the terms, but should sign an acknowledgement of receipt.
Even if the spouse will not respond to the petition, the petitioner can still file the paperwork. The petition does not need to be signed by both, so the case can proceed without one’s consent. When this happens, the spouse that will not sign has to be legally served with the paperwork. If they are not cooperative with signing, a server may be hired to deliver the petition. This can be done through a licensed process server at the local sheriff’s office.
Filing a Response
When responses are filed, they can smooth things along and can avoid court hearings. If a response is not submitted and filed after 30 days, the petitioner may ask the court to enter a default. When responding spouses disagree with the terms of the petition, they can use their response to state their positions.
When a respondent does not answer or show up at a hearing, the court can still proceed with the case. Sometimes a court will enter a judgement of default and the divorce will be granted. Judges can also award much of what is specified in the divorce petition. In these situations, the absent spouse will be unable to contest the judge’s decree unless there is a valid reason for not complying.
Spouses that decline to participate in the proceedings by not adhering to a judge’s orders or avoiding mediation can be held in contempt or charged with fines until they are ready to cooperate.
New Jersey Laws
In New Jersey, respondents have 35 days to respond to divorce petitions, and petitioners have 60 days to ask for default divorce judgments. For this, petitioners must request a default hearing and prove that the spouse was served, did not respond, and is not serving in the military. If granted, the respondent must be informed that the hearing is taking place and on what date.
Petitioners will need to bring documentation to the default hearing, including financial information about assets and debts, equitable distribution of property, plus details on spousal and child support. A qualified divorce lawyer can help petitioners write up a proposed final judgement for these hearings, which may help the judge decide on the case.