What If I Don't Want to Sign Divorce Papers?
By Anna Assad
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Although divorce is often difficult to face, you must be involved in the court proceedings so you don't lose what you're entitled to. Your spouse doesn't need your participation to get a divorce from you. As long as he notifies you after filing the petition and follows the court's rules, he can get a final divorce decree in court.
Petition and Notice
Your spouse files the divorce petition and other forms required by your state — such as a summons telling you to respond to his petition — in the court that handles divorce cases where you or he lives. The petition contains information about him, you, any minor children you have and the marriage itself, such as the reason for the divorce and the marital debts and assets. Once he files the petition, he must notify you using the method the court requires, such as personal service or certified mail, by sending you a court-approved notice form and a copy of the petition. The notice form tells you how long you have to respond to the divorce papers.
Service by Publication
Your spouse might not have to find you if you are actively avoiding the papers. If your spouse can't locate you to send notice, the judge tells him to publish notice of the divorce petition in a newspaper in the county for a specific number of days. The notice tells you what was filed, when a hearing will be held on the matter, how much time you have to respond and what court the divorce was filed in. This notice is considered sufficient in cases where one spouse can't be found. In some counties, your spouse must hire a court-approved person to try and find you before he's allowed to serve you notice by publication. After the notice has run for the number of days the court requires, your spouse can proceed with the divorce without your participation.
If you don't respond to the papers once you've received notice, your spouse asks the court to give him a final hearing on the divorce. The judge can award him a divorce judgment by default. A default judgment occurs when one spouse was summoned to court but didn't respond, leaving the judge to award the divorce based on the facts shown on the filing spouse's petition. Your spouse gets the divorce on his terms, even if you don't agree with everything he stated on the petition or you know some of information on the papers is not true.
Response forms and directions are typically included in the divorce papers. You can use the response to state what you disagree with in the petition. As long as you file the answer before the court deadline, you can contest the divorce, but your contest must be in good faith. Good faith means you're disputing legitimate issues, such as child custody, and not trying to delay the proceedings without a valid reason. You can also file a counterclaim with your answer. The counterclaim is your proposed terms for the divorce, including the grounds and the division of marital assets and debts.
Anna Assad began writing professionally in 1999 and has published several legal articles for various websites. She has an extensive real estate and criminal legal background. She also tutored in English for nearly eight years, attended Buffalo State College for paralegal studies and accounting, and minored in English literature, receiving a Bachelor of Arts.