Can My Spouse Refuse to Sign Divorce Papers?

A divorce can be obtained whether or not a spouse signs the paperwork.

Man Yelling At Woman
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Do You Have to Sign Divorce Papers?


Reader Question:

Shortly after we married my husband mistook me for a punching bag. I ended up in the hospital with severe injuries and have not lived with him since. When I told him that I was divorcing him he told me that he would not sign divorce papers, that he wouldn’t allow me to divorce him. Can he keep me from getting a divorce by refusing to sign the divorce paperwork?

He becomes violently angry when I mention divorce to him. Even though we no longer live together I fear how he will respond should I file for a divorce.


No, he can’t. He doesn’t have the legal right to dictate to you whether or not you can obtain a divorce. His response is not uncommon for someone who thinks it is OK to beat a spouse but, he is misguided in his belief that he has that kind of control.

He is using a common tactic that abusers use to try and continue to control their spouse. He is of the belief that he still controls you with fear and that, out of the fear you can be manipulated into believing whatever he says. Don't buy into it. You are out and able to think for yourself. If you are uncertain of something he tells you, do exactly as you've done now and seek advice from others.

Here is how divorce works in all 50 states 

You can retain a divorce attorney and have that attorney file a petition for divorce with or without your husband’s permission.

Or, you can visit your local court clerk and ask for information about filing for a divorce without an attorney. Your ex may not like you having the power to do so but, there is nothing he can do about your ability to divorce him. 

Different districts handle situations like yours differently. It is common in a divorce where one party refuses to sign the petition for the divorce to be classified as an uncontested divorce.

Meaning, once your petition for divorce is filed, your husband will have 30 days to respond to the filing. If he fails to respond, the court will view his refusal to respond as not contesting the divorce and the court will grant you a default divorce.

In some states if your husband doesn’t respond to the initial filing of the divorce a court date will be set. This can take longer but, if your husband doesn’t show up for the court date a judge will grant a divorce based on the information in your original petition for divorce.

A local divorce attorney will be able to consult with you and tell you the steps you will need to go through for your particular court jurisdiction. The bottom line though, you can get a divorce without his signature.

And, though he may not want to sign the paperwork, you can bet that once you file for a divorce he will hire an attorney and try to abuse you via the Family Court System. Abusers fight with might in court when their victims attempt to break free of them legally. Explain your situation to your attorney and make sure you've hired one with experience advocating for victims of domestic abuse.

Prepare for the divorce process to be high conflict. If he is passive aggressive or narcissistic the divorce process may be long and convoluted due to his resistance.

And, at the first sign of any danger from him, please don't hesitate to obtain a restraining order. Above all else you must be willing to protect yourself.