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What Happens if You or Your Spouse Don’t Want to Sign the Divorce Papers

Couple arguing

Your spouse doesn’t want the marriage to end. You know it’s what you want, and you’ve tried to convince him or her that it’s for the best, but you just can’t agree. It’s a tough situation, so what can you do? On the flip side, can you refuse divorce? What happens if you don’t sign divorce papers? In this post, we take a look at both sides and how the state of Texas approaches a disputed divorce when spouses disagree.

Three basic tips for navigating a divorce your spouse doesn’t want

Tip No. 1: Keep the lines of communication open. Don’t hide things. Don’t lie. Don’t refuse to talk to your spouse. Communication is critical and may help your spouse understand why you want a divorce and how it may be the best option for you, your spouse and your children.

When communication is an issue, which often happens with divorce, we encourage clients to seek guidance from a family counselor, therapist or clergy. Even if your spouse refuses counseling, a mental health professional can guide you on how to better communicate and ease tensions as you seek divorce.

Learn six ways family therapists help families in this recent post.

Tip No. 2: Try to be as caring and compassionate as possible. Keep in mind that divorce—and even the idea of divorce—may have a very different emotional impact on your spouse than you, especially if he or she doesn’t want to divorce.

While you may feel frustrated your spouse won’t accept things and go along, try to keep your anger in check. Reacting with rage and resentment will only strain the relationship further and make resolving the divorce more difficult in the long run.

Tip No. 3: Give your spouse time to process the news. Don’t be surprised if you get a negative reaction from your spouse after sharing your intentions or serving him or her with divorce papers. Finding out your husband or wife filed for divorce can come as a complete shock to the person on the receiving end of that information.

While the need for a divorce may be obvious to you, it may not be for him or her. Given time to recover from the shock and process the situation, most people eventually accept the inevitable, move forward with signing divorce papers and find a way to get on with life.

Tip No. 4: Seek the advice of an experienced divorce attorney. A family counselor can help you deal with the mental and emotional aspects of a divorce but it’s also essential to understand your legal options early on. This is true whether your spouse is agreeable or opposed to divorce because timing is often critical during the divorce process.

A divorce lawyer can also answer questions like, “What happens if you don’t sign divorce papers?” (We’ll answer that question and others later in this post.)

What if YOU don’t want to get divorced? Do both parties have to agree to a divorce?

When it comes to divorce, the state of Texas is a no-fault state. That means in Texas, you don’t need to prove fault grounds (i.e., prove the other party is at fault somehow) in order to get a divorce. If your spouse wants to end your marriage there is nothing you can do to stop the divorce. This includes refusing to sign divorce papers (more on that below).

Sure, you can try to make your spouse’s life miserable and drag the divorce out but those actions won’t do anyone any good, including you. In fact, intentionally dragging out the divorce could end up costing you plenty in unnecessary grief and legal fees. Not to mention the emotional trauma experienced by any children you share.

Blindsided by divorce? Check out this helpful post: My spouse just asked for a divorce. What do I do now?

What happens if you don’t sign divorce papers?

Or, conversely, what happens if the spouse doesn’t sign divorce papers? Texas law does require the person requesting a divorce (the petitioner) to properly notify his or her spouse (the respondent) that they filed an Original Petition for Divorce. However, the Texas family courts do not require the respondent to file a response, appear in court or sign the divorce decree in order for the judge to approve a divorce.

So, can you get a divorce without your spouse’s signature in Texas? Yes, you can. Depending on the county where you reside, you will need to fill out and file certain forms and paperwork with the court, complete Texas’ mandatory 60-day waiting period and appear in court before a judge can approve your divorce.

How your spouse does or does not respond simply shapes the road you take to finalizing your divorce. Here are four scenarios where you can divorce in TX without spouse’s signature.

Scenario 1: Mediated Settlement Agreement. You file a petition for divorce, you and your spouse go to mediation and reach a settlement agreement, then file that mediated settlement agreement with the court. The mediated settlement agreement is irrevocable so it cannot be modified or changed by either party or the court. If the other party refuses to sign the decree or wants to change the terms, the judge must still approve the divorce without that party’s signature on the divorce decree.

Scenario 2: Irrevocable Settlement Agreement with Property. You file a petition for divorce, and with the aid of your attorneys, you and your spouse negotiate a settlement. You file the irrevocable settlement agreement with the court. Since the settlement agreement is in fact irrevocable, the court must approve the divorce based on the terms in the irrevocable settlement agreement, even if the other party doesn’t sign off on the decree.

Scenario 3: Rule 11 Agreement. In the state of Texas, a Rule 11 agreement is an agreement between two parties that is put in writing and filed with the court. If the two parties in a divorce have made a Rule 11 agreement and filed it appropriately, the terms of that agreement may be enforceable in court. If the respondent doesn’t appear in court on the day of the divorce hearing or file to amend the Rule 11 agreement prior to the hearing, the judge can approve the divorce without both spouses’ signatures on the decree. 

Scenario 4: Default Divorce. If you file a petition for divorce, notify your spouse of the filing in accordance with state and local laws, and your spouse either doesn’t file a response OR does file a response but doesn’t appear for the divorce hearing, you could request to enter default and obtain a default divorce. If the judge agrees to the default judgment, you can finalize your default divorce without your spouse’s signature.

Need a Tarrant County family law attorney to answer questions about your divorce?

The experienced divorce attorneys at the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth are here to help. To schedule a confidential case review with our founder Fort Worth divorce lawyer Justin Sisemore, contact our firm by phone at (817) 336-4444 or connect with us online.

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