Divorcing When Your Spouse Won't Sign Divorce Papers

Applying for a divorce can be a difficult decision to make. This is especially true if you’re not sure your partner will sign your petition. Ensure that you remember that you don't need your partner’s consent to get a divorce. Although it may prolong the process if your partner doesn’t comply, they won't be able to stop the divorce forever.

No-fault divorce law update

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act from 2020 came into effect on the 6th April 2022. This legislation changed the divorce process.

Consenting a divorce is no longer possible. Irretrievable breakdowns of relationships are enough.

Conditions like unreasonable behaviour, adultery, or desertion will no longer be necessary causes for divorce. A divorce can be claimed for the simple fact that the marriage is irretrievably broken.

Your spouse will no longer be able to halt your divorce. However, you’ll need to wait a minimum of 26 weeks before your divorce can be finalised.

For more information, read our guide on everything you need to know about no fault divorce.

Petitioning for divorce

When you file for divorce, your spouse will be sent a copy of your application and an Acknowledgement of Service form.

The respondent will have to return this form stating whether they agree to the divorce or wish to contest it.

Technically, they must return the Acknowledgement of Service form within 14 days before the court will move your divorce forward. But this is something of a formality.

In practice, your spouse up to eight days to respond. If they don’t meet the timeframe, you can apply to the court for a decree nisi. This will state that the court sees no reason for the divorce to be denied. 

Difficulties with this process

Your spouse has up to eight days to respond before you can continue your divorce without their consent. However, do be aware that issues can still arise if they won't sign the divorce papers.

Before the court will push ahead with your divorce application, they must be sure that:

  1. Your spouse has received notice of the divorce proceedings
  2. Your spouse has had the chance to respond

If your spouse won’t co-operate with you, this can be difficult to prove. The Acknowledgement of Service form is vital for the progression of your divorce. Unless your spouse returns it, you won't be able to move on to the next stage.

However, while this situation is far from ideal, there are steps to rectify it. You’ll still be able to get divorced. You'll just have to show the court that you’ve made every reasonable effort to tell your spouse about the proceedings.

You can do this by following these five steps.

How to deal with an unwanted divorce

Divorces can be hard enough, let alone if your spouse is refusing the petition. Emotionally, any separation takes a toll on you. And divorce has the added complication of legal implications, liaising with divorce lawyers, and financial settlements.

Taking care of yourself during this legal process is vital. Make sure you keep to normal routines, relax when you can, and make time for exercise or hobbies.

If your divorce takes longer because your spouse won't sign, remember they can't delay it forever.

Step 1 – Check your spouse has received the divorce papers

Firstly, you'll need to check that your spouse has received the divorce papers. There may be a simple reason for why they haven’t returned the Acknowledgement of Service form.

For example, they might be away on holiday, or the form may have got lost in the post.

Try to get in touch with them as soon as possible to ask if they’ve received the divorce papers. If they tell you that they haven’t received the papers, you can apply for the papers to be sent again.

Ideally, your spouse will then return the Acknowledgment of Service form. This will then allow you to move on to the next stage of the divorce.

Step 2 – Apply to the court for a deemed service

Unfortunately, getting through to your spouse isn’t always easy when you’re separated.

If your spouse won’t talk to you, there may still be evidence that they’ve seen the divorce petition. This is even if they haven't signed the Acknowledgement of Service.

For example, they may have previously sent you a text or an email saying that they’ve received the divorce papers.

You can file this as evidence at court and ask for an order of 'deemed service'. This means that the court will declare that your spouse has seen the petition, despite not receiving their Acknowledgement of Service.

A judge will decide whether the evidence you provide is enough proof that your spouse has received the divorce petition.

If you’re successful, the court will be able to move on with the next stage of your divorce.

Step 3 – Send the divorce papers to your spouse directly

The judge may decide that the evidence you provide isn’t strong enough to approve your deemed service order.

If your deemed service application is refused, your next option is to physically serve your spouse with the divorce papers.

You can then use this as evidence to the court that your spouse is aware of the divorce proceedings.

Instruct a process server

In many cases, the best way of doing this is through a process server.

A process server is someone who delivers divorce papers to your spouse on behalf of your lawyer.

While you could deliver the divorce papers yourself, a process server is a good idea. The server will be more effective at convincing the court that your spouse is aware of proceedings.

In some cases, this is because you may not actually know where your spouse is.

Experienced process servers have access to databases that will help them to track your spouse down, wherever they are. The process server will be able to locate your spouse and serve them with the divorce papers, regardless of their situation. This includes if they have changed address, moved abroad, or even been sent to prison.

It can sometimes be best to instruct a process server to deliver the divorce papers, even if know your spouse's whereabouts.

This is because once your spouse has been served with the divorce papers, the process server will submit a certificate of service. The certificate will prove to the court that your spouse has received the divorce petition.

This should satisfy the court that your spouse has received notice of court proceedings. After this, you are able to move on to the next stage of the divorce.

Step 4 – Use an alternative way of serving the divorce papers

While process servers can usually track people down, they’re not always successful.

If personal service doesn't work, you can ask the court to use a different way to deliver the petition.

For example, you may think your spouse is more likely to receive the petition at another place other than their home. This could be their parents’ house, their new partner's house, or even a relative or friend.

Otherwise, you could do something like placing an advert in a local newspaper. However, the court must be satisfied that this is likely to be seen by your spouse.

Step 5 – Apply for a dispensed service

If all else fails, you may be able get divorced without your spouse’s consent by applying for a dispensed service.

A dispensed service means that the court will allow you to proceed with your divorce, despite your spouse's lack of consent.

To be successful in your application, you must show the court that you’ve made all reasonable enquiries to find your spouse and serve them with the petition. So, you’ll need detailed records of all the attempts you’ve made to trace them. 

Speak to a divorce solicitor

Going through a divorce can be a stressful experience at the best of times. But when your spouse won’t sign the divorce papers, it can be particularly frustrating.

Following these five steps should convince the court that you’ve tried everything to notify your spouse about the divorce. This means you’ll be able to get divorced without their consent.

But the legal process can be complicated, as well as time consuming and expensive.

If you need help because your spouse won’t sign the divorce papers, you should speak to a divorce solicitor. They'll be able to guide you and provide support.

The Law Superstore lets you compare divorce solicitors near you – completely free.