11/9/2019

What if I Don't Agree to a Divorce?

     From time to time, a potential client asks us this question during their consultation: “What if I don’t agree to a divorce?”  If they are a little more obstinate, they may instead say, “Well, I won’t agree to a divorce.” 

      There are typically one of three rationales behind this attitude: (1) Religious or “moral” beliefs prohibiting divorce; (2) an attempt to force their spouse to try counseling before ending the marriage; or (3) a desire to make it as difficult as possible for the spouse choosing to end the marriage (multiply that by one thousand if they are ending the marriage to pursue a new relationship.)

      Our firm’s response to this is always some version of the following: If your spouse wants a divorce, they are going to get the divorce.  They do not need your consent to end the marriage. 

      When you threaten to “refuse to sign the divorce papers,” the document you are referring to is the Marital Settlement Agreement (typically referred to as an “MSA”).  This sets forth a divorcing couple’s agreed upon resolution of every issue applicable to their divorce (i.e. custody, parenting time, child support, alimony, the division of assets and debts, etc.).  This document requires your signature before the court incorporates it into a Final Judgment of Divorce.  However, this is not the only way your spouse can obtain a desired divorce from you. 

      Yes, you can indeed refuse to sign each and every version of an MSA that is presented to you.  You can also refuse to meaningfully participate in any settlement negotiations, during which you would have had a voice in how your divorce would resolve.  You can stick your head in the sand and dig your heels to the point of insanity. 

      Do you know what will happen if you do this?  Your spouse will get the divorce anyway.  Because you refused to participate in the process, your spouse will pretty much write their own ticket for how they want the issues resolved.  They will ultimately file a “Request to Enter Default” in your matter.  Then they will appear in court without you for a Default Hearing.  During that hearing, they will present a “Notice of Proposed Judgment” (the “ticket” they wrote for themselves) and give limited testimony as to its terms.  The Court will not require your spouse go into nearly as much detail about the terms of the document as you might expect.  Unless something really wacky is revealed during the limited testimony being taken, your spouse will likely be granted a divorce that day and that document prepared by them or their attorney will become the entire resolution of your divorce.  That’s it.  Done.  You will be divorced and will have had no say in any of it – all because you refused to cooperate with any part of it.

      Of course, it is a traumatic experience when the person you love ends your marriage while your heart is still in it.  As much as you feel like your world may be crumbling, you will get through it - we assure you of that.  When your spouse has chosen divorce, your only reasonable option is to comply with the process and participate in the resolution of the most important issues in your life.  We cannot emphasize enough that digging your heels or keeping your head in the sand will only hurt you, your financial future and possibly even your children. 

      Whether you are the spouse wanting the divorce or you need help responding to one who does, please contact our office.  We can help you get a fair resolution of all issues despite the disagreement of whether the marriage should have ended in the first place

Blog authored by partner and co-owner of the Firm, Laura Ruvolo Lipp, Esq.