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What happens if spouse doesn’t sign divorce papers (UK)

by Advocko
What happens if my spouse does not sign divorce papers

Divorce proceedings, even those favoured by both parties, can often get messy. A very common issue within divorce proceedings is when one spouse fails to acknowledge or simply refuses to sign any paperwork which they receive from the court. Clients often ask “what happens if spouse doesn’t sign divorce papers”. It is therefore important to be aware of your options should your spouse refuse to cooperate at any point.

Is it mandatory for my spouse to sign divorce papers?

In order to answer this question, we need to evaluate the nature of the divorce petition.

In the UK, you can file a petition for a divorce on the basis of the following ‘facts’:

  • Your spouse has committed adultery and this is intolerable for you;
  • Your spouse’s conduct is ‘unreasonable’ to the extent that you cannot be reasonably expected to live with them;
  • Your spouse has abandoned you for a consecutive period of two years;
  • You have been living apart for two years and the other party consents to the divorce;
  • You have been living apart for five years.

Once you have filed the divorce petition, your spouse will be sent a copy along with an ‘acknowledgement of service’ form. This form will basically ask your spouse whether they agree to the divorce itself along with any terms and conditions set out in the petition or if they have any objections. They will have eight days to respond.

At this point, your spouse can refuse to cooperate by simply choosing not to return the ‘acknowledgement of service’ form. Whether an acknowledgement of service is required for a divorce to be finalised depends on the grounds chosen.

In case the petition was filed on the grounds of adultery, the respondent spouse must either acknowledge it in order for the divorce to proceed or the petitioner must prove adultery which can be a very difficult task to do in court. Similarly, if the petitioner has filed for divorce based on a 2-year separation, the ‘acknowledgement of service’ form becomes a strict requirement for the divorce to proceed. 

Is it still possible to get a divorce if my spouse does not sign divorce papers?

At this point, it would be wise to change the basis of the divorce petition to a ‘fact’ that does not require the explicit consent of the respondent spouse. For example, if Mr A is seeking a divorce on the grounds of a two-year separation, his spouse’s explicit consent will be required for the divorce to go through. If his spouse fails to complete the acknowledgement or does not sign the divorce papers, Mr A will not be able to proceed with the divorce. In this situation, Mr A can change the grounds of his petition from ‘2 year separation’, to ‘unreasonable behaviour’. Under this basis, Mr A can still proceed with the divorce even if his spouse does not sign anything provided that he successfully uses one of the following options:

1. Apply for Deemed Service: 

If you have evidence of any correspondence from your spouse that proves that they have received the petition such as text messages or emails, you can possibly apply for deemed service. It will be at the judge’s discretion however, to award it. If awarded, the court will proceed with the divorce application without the need for the respondent to sign any documents.

2. Instruct a Process Server:

If your application for deemed service fails, a process server can be instructed. This is a service that sends someone to physically serve divorce papers to your spouse at their residence or place of work. Once served, you receive a certificate which can be produced in court as evidence that your spouse is aware of the proceedings. The court may then allow you to proceed with the divorce without your spouse’s signatures. 

3. Apply for Alternative Service:

This is essentially where you ask for the court’s permission to serve divorce papers to your spouse’s relatives or even their employer in order to notify your spouse of the proceedings. This could even mean placing an advert in the local newspaper. 

4. Apply for Dispensed Service:

As a last resort, dispensed service can be used where the court will proceed with the divorce without any sort of acknowledgement from the respondent. This will only be allowed where all reasonable efforts have been made to contact your spouse and serve them the divorce papers.

Further information:

In certain circumstances, it is possible to proceed with a divorce without any sort of acknowledgement from your spouse. For example, if you are unable to locate your spouse or if your spouse simply lacks the mental capacity to act on their own in which case, a close relative or friend can be appointed to act and sign documents on their behalf. 

It is clear that some ‘facts’ are easier to get a divorce through than others. ‘Unreasonable behaviour’ is very intuitive in the sense that it can cover a broad range of issues that can be highlighted in the petition. Therefore, it is recommended that the petitioner anticipate the behaviour of their spouse beforehand and file their divorce petition under the right grounds or ‘facts’.

For further resources on divorce and family law please visit our family law section.

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