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What Should I Do If My Spouse Doesn’t Want A Divorce?

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

Divorce can be complicated, even in the most amicable circumstances. But if only one of you wants a divorce, the process can take on a whole new layer of complexity. 

This doesn’t mean you will be stuck in an unhappy marriage forever—but it does mean you should work with a knowledgeable and experienced divorce attorney to help you navigate the process with as little stress as possible.   

Three steps to take if your spouse doesn’t want a divorce

If your soon-to-be ex-spouse is refusing to cooperate or dragging their heels at every turn, there are a few proactive moves you can make. 

1. Consult with a divorce attorney

If you’re pursuing a divorce but have been stonewalled by your spouse, you may feel frustrated, anxious, angry…and unsure of what to do next. In these situations, you may receive a lot of well-meaning advice from your trusted circle. That advice may be based on personal experience, emotion, or care for you, but it may not be grounded in the law. 

During this time, it’s vital to consult with an experienced divorce attorney. An uncooperative spouse may be challenging, but a divorce attorney can help you: 

  • Understand why your spouse might not be cooperating (and what to do about it)
  • Determine the most effective responses to difficult behaviors
  • Create plans, both short- and long-term, that reflect your goals

But before you move forward with an attorney, make sure they are the right fit for your needs. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during your consultation!

2. File and serve the divorce papers

Filing divorce papers indicates to the court that you’re formally initiating the divorce process within the court system. Once this is done, your next step is to serve divorce papers to your soon-to-be-ex spouse. 

Even when soon-to-be-ex spouses are cooperating with one another, serving (or being served) papers isn’t necessarily easy—emotionally speaking. But serving divorce papers to an avoidant spouse is another story. 

Your spouse may avoid being served for a number of reasons, from wanting to save the marriage to attempting to dodge child support or alimony payments. This behavior can be stressful and you may worry that these efforts will stall your divorce process. Keep in mind, though, avoiding being served won’t prevent you from getting a divorce. 

If you suspect your spouse will try to avoid being served or refuse to respond to a divorce petition, your lawyer can help document your efforts and ask a judge to authorize alternative notification methods that allow the process to move forward.

3. Find the right strategy

Right now it might feel like your divorce is destined to be drawn out and difficult—but this doesn’t have to be the case. Facing a divorce with an uncooperative spouse can be easier when you have an attorney by your side who can help you to implement creative, agile responses to delay tactics, stonewalling, and other forms of opposition. 

Family law requires that divorce judgments be as fair as possible, which means a judge will have to give your ex every opportunity possible to make their case against your divorce. As a result, you’ll likely spend a lot of time (and money) managing filing deadlines, legal responses, documentation requirements, and court dates.

Getting in touch with a knowledgeable legal professional helps you build a sound legal strategy that establishes realistic goals and expectations for the process in terms of outcomes, timelines, and budget. 

What happens if my spouse doesn’t respond to the divorce petition?

There are multiple remedies available to people whose spouses refuse to acknowledge a divorce petition.

If your soon-to-be ex continues to successfully sidestep being served the divorce papers in person, your lawyer can file a motion to serve by publication or posting. If granted, this will allow you to keep things moving after publishing notice of your divorce in a newspaper or at the courthouse, for example. 

Under New Jersey law, your spouse has 35 days to respond to a summons and divorce complaint. They can either:

  1. File an answer,
  2. File an answer and a counterclaim listing their complaints against you, or
  3. File an appearance not contesting the claim, but asking to be heard in court regarding the terms of the final judgment on the issues involved. 

If they do not respond at all within 35 days, your attorney can request the court grant you a default divorce decree. As long as the terms of your proposed final judgment appear to be fair based on the information—financial and otherwise—that you’ve provided, this may be part of the final steps in your divorce process. The court typically has a hearing to take testimony and review evidence supporting your claims, and this is the opportunity you have to convince the judge to enter a decision in your favor on the issues. 

But if the judge requests additional information, your spouse will be given another opportunity to engage in the process. If they choose to respond, you may have to work with their legal counsel to amend your agreement. If they do not respond, your lawyer can ask the court to hold your ex in contempt of court—a step that can result in significant fines or even jail time. 

Our Morristown New Jersey divorce attorneys can help you navigate the divorce process

Even if your spouse doesn’t want a divorce, they can’t stop you from filing divorce papers in New Jersey. They can contest specific issues—child support, parenting time, and asset distribution, for example—but they can’t halt the process entirely.

 The attorneys at Jacobs Berger have the experience and knowledge you need to navigate a divorce with a reluctant spouse. Contact us to schedule your strategy session with our team.

Contact Our Morristown Attorneys Today

At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.