What happens when spouse refuse to sign divorce papers?

The truth is that divorce does not adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. So with the time that it may take to complete the divorce process, it does -vary from couple to couple. It all depends on your personal circumstances.

What happens when spouse refuse to sign divorce papers?

Starting the divorce process

Uncontested divorce proceedings in the UK can take as little as four months to complete. However, if other financial matters need to be resolved, then the process can take significantly longer, particularly if the matters cannot be agreed upon quickly.

The divorce petition

You are highly advised to contact your Spouse or their divorce solicitor to agree with the content of the divorce petition before it is filed for consideration. For example, to gain consent to a two-year separation divorce, or to send a copy of the particulars of behaviour. 

This will speed up the divorce process hugely and will also decrease the chance of having the divorce contested as each party will know where they stand when it comes to what has been agreed upon in regards to the divorce.

Once the divorce petition has been finalised, it is then sent with the original marriage certificate and the court fee. The court fee is currently £550. All of these are then sent to one of the central divorce centres. It can be possible to obtain a fee exemption from paying some or all of the fee for the divorce; this is dependent on your financial circumstances.

The party who is issuing the divorce proceedings is referred to as the petitioner. When the Petition has been issued, your Spouse, the respondent, will be sent a copy of the divorce petition. The respondent will have to complete an acknowledgement of service form to show that they have no intention of contesting to the divorce. If the acknowledgement of service is then not returned, it may be necessary to arrange the collection of the documents by bailiffs, this is known as personal service.

What is the Acknowledgement of Service?

When you and your Spouse have both received your sealed divorce petition from the Court, you will both also receive a document known as an acknowledgement of service. 

An acknowledgement of service is similar to that of a questionnaire, and it will ask your Spouse to confirm they have received the Petition and that they formally consent to a divorce being pronounced. The Court will then require your Spouse to complete the acknowledgement of service and return it to the Court to allow the divorce process to progress on to the next stage, which is known as the Decree Nisi.

Is there always a need for an Acknowledgement of Service?

In the divorce petition, you should have stated the reason for your marriage breakdown. This has to be one of the following:

  • Adultery – your Spouse may have had an affair.
  • Unreasonable behaviour – you may have experienced domestic abuse.
  • Desertion – Spouse abandoned you without warning and has not returned.
  • Two years of separation, with consent.
  • Five years of separation.

Depending on the reason that you have stated, you may require consent from your Spouse to proceed. Explicit consent is required if you are seeking a divorce because you have been separated for two years. 

If you want a divorce because of this and your Spouse does not respond to the Court, you may have to consider re-issuing an application for divorce. You will have to use a different reason, which does not require consent from both parties.

If you have chosen a reason that does not require explicit consent, such as unreasonable behaviour, you will still have to satisfy the Court that you have made every effort to make the respondent of the divorce proceedings. If the respondent still fails to return the acknowledgement of service, matters will become more complicated from here. You will have to proceed with the divorce without a completed acknowledgement of service, or you will have to find another reason to proceed with the divorce.

The decree nisi

When the acknowledgement of service is then returned to Court, you are then able to apply for a decree nisi by filling out an application form and a supporting statement. Assuming that the Court is satisfied that you are entitled to a divorce, the Court will then announce a date for the pronouncement of the decree nisi, and they will send notice to both of the parties. 

You would not typically be required to attend Court unless there happens to be a dispute about the claim for costs. Should the Court not approve the divorce, a notice will then be sent out to both parties explaining the queries that were raised and information about how to reapply for the decree nisi once the queries have been resolved.

The decree absolute

You should expect the decree nisi to be pronounced by the Court. A decree nisi is only a provisional decree of divorce. The petitioner should wait at least six weeks from the date that the decree nisi was granted before applying for the decree nisi to be absolute or final.

The application for a decree absolute is usually dealt with quickly by the Court. You can expect the final decree to be sent to both parties once the divorce has been finalised. If the petitioner decides not to apply for a decree absolute, then the respondent can make an application from three months after the six weeks is over. 

If financial matters have not been agreed and resolved at this stage, it may be necessary to delay the decree absolute application until the financial issues have been resolved. You should also make sure to review your will as any mention of your Spouse in your will be made void once the decree absolute has been processed. As soon as the Court grants the decree absolute, the marriage is over. You are officially and legally divorced and free to re-marry from that point onward.

What if your spouse does not respond?

Many options are open to people who may not have had a response from their Spouse. If you have chosen the reason for divorce as the respondent used unreasonable behaviour, five-year separation or desertion, you can proceed without the return of the Acknowledgment of Service. 

Should your Petition be based on two-year separation or adultery, you will be required to have your Spouse express consent/admission, and they will need to return of the Acknowledgment of Service. 

Should this not be achievable, you should amend your Petition. You can then rely on a fact that does not require your Spouse’s consent, as mentioned above if you have received correspondence from the respondent that confirms that they have received divorce documents. You should then consider making an application for deemed service.

What is a deemed service?

If you have substantial evidence (such as a letter, text or email from your Spouse) that they have received divorce documents from the Court, you can use this method. In this case, you do not need to arrange for your Petition to be re-served through a Court Bailiff or process server.

Deemed service is used when the respondent has not replied to your Petition or acknowledgement of service. You can ask the Court to proceed with the divorce without having received the respondents completed acknowledgement of service. Deemed service can only be used if the respondent has confirmed that they have received the documents by other means (as mentioned above). 

The judge decides to award deemed service. If your request happens to be successful, the Court will be able to proceed with your application for Decree Nisi without the respondent’s completed acknowledgement of service. If your application gets refused by the Court, or you have not had any other form of correspondence from the respondent, you should consider instructing a process server. 

A process server is usually a bailiff who will physically serve the divorce papers to the respondent in person. This could be either at their work address, their home or any other address that they are known at. The process server would then be able to provide you with a certificate of service. You will then be able to provide the Court as written evidence that the respondent has been served with the divorce papers, and is aware of the proceedings that are happening. The Court may then approve of allowing you to proceed with your application for Decree Nisi if they are satisfied with the certificate of service.

If the above attempts are not successful, you will be expected by the Court to continue to try to notify your Spouse of the divorce proceedings that are taking place. 

This is known as alternative service. Alternative service is when you have to request permission to notify your Spouse of the divorce using an alternative method. 

This could include serving divorce papers to a relative of the respondent, their employer, or by putting an advert in the paper which the respondent is known to read. If all of these methods have been attempted and your efforts have still been unsuccessful, your final resort should then be an application to the Court for dispensed service. 

If awarded, you will then be granted permission to proceed with the divorce proceedings without the respondent being aware. It is quite rare that the court award dispensed service and they will only do so if they are totally satisfied that you’ve made all reasonable attempts to find your ex-partner and serve them with the divorce papers. This means that your Spouse could be divorced without even knowing it.

Key Takeaway

A common problem in the divorce process is that the other party chooses to bury his head in the sand and ignores all the paperwork they receive from the court, including the confirmation of service that you need them to fill out to confirm the following:( a) They have received the divorce papers, and (b) they do not want to challenge the lawsuit.

Get expert legal advice from a divorce lawyer to avoid any unnecessary delay to get your divorce finalised.

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