What Happens If I Refuse to Sign the Divorce Papers?

Couples are not always on the same page about getting a divorce. One spouse may believe the marriage is over, while the other may want to keep fighting to make it work. In these situations, the spouse resisting the divorce may believing refusing to sign the papers will halt the divorce process. This, however, is typically not the case. In fact, refusing to sign divorce papers could do more harm than good for a spouse opposing a divorce.

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce in California

In a California divorce case, one spouse (the petitioner) will file for divorce and serve the papers to the other spouse (the respondent). The respondent must then file his or her response within a certain time period, which is 30 days in California, unless an exception applies. The response will state whether the respondent contests or does not contest the terms of the split. It does not matter which spouse files for divorce. Who files will not affect how the courts handle the case, divide property, or settle custody matters. If the responding spouse refuses to sign the papers, however, it can alter the course of the divorce.

A contested divorce is one in which one spouse does not agree to the petitioner’s terms for divorce. It means the respondent wishes to contest one or more terms the petitioner has laid out for the split, such as a custody arrangement or spousal support. The respondent should make which terms he or she does not agree with very clear in the divorce contest, or the paperwork which the respondent must file with the courts. After filing, both sides will need to settle matters – often with help from attorneys – during mediation or a trial.

An uncontested divorce is one in which the respondent agrees to all the proposed terms of the divorce, and lets the case proceed as the petitioner desires. It means the respondent is forfeiting the right to negotiate for different terms. Uncontested divorces are faster and cheaper, as they typically do not culminate in trials. Refusing to sign divorce papers altogether does not mean a respondent contests the divorce or halts the process. On the contrary, it will automatically result in the proceeding of an uncontested divorce.

The Effect of Refusing to Sign Divorce Papers

Refusing to sign divorce papers within the 30-day window in California will result in a default divorce. A default divorce means the petitioner does not need to go to court to complete the dissolution of the marriage. Instead, the petitioner can handle the case by mail or a short meeting with a judge. The judge will grant the petitioner’s divorce request without holding a trial, since the respondent never filed a motion to contest the petition. The divorce will not only proceed, but not signing the papers will have actually made it easier for the other spouse to complete the divorce process.

Not signing the divorce papers also means the respondent gives up the right to negotiate the terms of the split. The respondent agrees to the petitioner’s motions for child custody, child support, property division, and alimony – at least as far as the judge grants the petitioner’s requests. The respondent has forfeited his or her right to a court hearing, and will not have the opportunity to contest any of the petitioner’s terms. Being an uncooperative spouse, therefore, will not halt the divorce, and could be worse for the respondent.

How to Properly Contest a Divorce

A spouse cannot stop a divorce through legal means. Only the petitioner can choose not to continue with the process. The only thing a respondent in a divorce case can do is to file a motion to contest the petitioner’s terms. This will delay the process until the couple can either agree on the terms of the divorce, or until a judge rules on its terms in divorce court. The court may grant an exception to the 30-day response rule in some circumstances, such as for a respondent that is out of the country on military duty.