What Happens If You Don’t Sign Divorce Papers?

Divorce is rarely an easy process, considering the potential emotional strain, exhausting legal proceedings, and financial expenses. When marriage is over, many things should be settled down and taken care of. For instance, spouses need to decide on property and debt division, child custody and support, etc. Marriage dissolution may become even more complicated if one of the spouses questions, “Do I have to sign divorce papers?” and actually refuses to do that.

But do both spouses have to agree to a divorce to terminate their marriage? No, it is not necessary. However, mutual consent can greatly speed up and simplify the procedure.

We decided to study the topic in detail and explain to readers what happens if you don’t sign divorce papers. This article also covers the main reasons why people hinder the divorce process and the general consequences of not signing divorce papers that usually arise. Besides, people wondering, “Do I have to sign divorce papers if I don’t want to?” will find convincing arguments to answer this question.

Will Refusing to Sign Stop the Divorce?

First of all, you should understand that refusing to sign divorce papers can only prolong the divorce process but won’t halt it. Still, some people choose this approach as a way to preserve their marriage. What prompts them to do so? Here are some reasons:

Denial and Hope

Some people may be dreaded by the looming prospect of the marriage ending. They still believe they can do something to reconcile with a partner. The sole act of signing divorce documents symbolizes the finality of the relationship, so they do everything possible to avoid this step.

Financial Concerns

Some people inquiring, “Can you refuse to sign divorce papers?” are guided by more pragmatic thoughts. For instance, they are worried that the standard of living after divorce will be much lower than what they’re accustomed to. Therefore, they try different methods to save their marriage, even by refusing to sign the forms.

Moreover, disputes over spousal support can also become a serious factor. If one spouse seeks alimony and the other doesn’t want to provide it, this disagreement may lead to a refusal to sign documents.

Parental Worries

A parent may refuse to sign divorce papers due to a fear of losing contact with the children. It may be painful for people to comply with a certain number of visitation hours or limited involvement in the children’s lives. So, refusing to sign the documents, they try to avoid such consequences.

Sometimes, one spouse doesn’t sign the papers if they have concerns about the other parent’s fitness for custody. Usually, it happens when a petitioner has demonstrated abusive behavior, has mental health problems, or lacks parenting skills.

Some people may resent the other partner’s plans to move to another state or country with the children. The desire to be close to their kids may be the main motivator to prevent a divorce.

Anger and Resentment

“Can you refuse divorce”? When a person is in the grip of anger, resentment, or a desire for revenge, this question constantly buzzes in the head. People will try to do everything they can to punish the other party, even if that involves sabotaging a divorce by not signing papers. A spouse may see withholding the signature as a way to make divorce more difficult for the other party.

Lack of Understanding

In some cases, a person may refuse to sign divorce papers due to a lack of understanding of the legal process or the consequences of their actions. What happens if you refuse to sign divorce papers? Contacting a lawyer for a consultation on this issue and settling disputes may be helpful.

Cultural or Religious Stigma

Marriage is considered a sacred and lifelong commitment in many religions. People who live by their religious teachings may resist divorce as it goes against their faith. Moreover, the fear of social disapproval, including judgment from friends or family, can affect people’s decision not to sign divorce papers.

Anxiety about the Unknown

The emotional toll of divorce is often unpredictable. Some people may be afraid of negative feelings, including loneliness, grief, or depression, caused by the need to adjust to life without their spouse. In addition, the prospect of entering the dating scene can be intimidating. Moreover, divorce often entails significant lifestyle changes such as relocations, adjustments in living arrangements, managing finances alone, or changes in social circles. All these alterations together can be very frightening.

Spouses who have children may experience anxiety about how the divorce will affect their kids. Concerns about the unknown challenges of co-parenting, maintaining a stable environment, and ensuring the well-being of the children can lead to the unwillingness to sign divorce documents.

Manipulation and Control

Refusal to add a signature to divorce documents can be a tactic to get the final say in negotiations. Some spouses may believe that by creating obstacles, they can extract concessions or favorable terms in areas such as asset division, alimony, or child custody.

Moreover, a party refusing to sign the papers may do so to maintain a sense of control over the divorce process. By dictating the pace and terms, they can influence the timeline and dynamics of the proceedings, potentially causing frustration and stress for a partner.

As you can see, people who oppose signing divorce forms may have different motives. However, even in the most complicated divorce proceedings, the party asking for marriage termination can eventually get the desired Final Divorce Decree even without the spouse’s consent. Below, we have detailed what you can do to finalize your divorce when your partner doesn’t sign the papers.

Can Your Spouse Get a Default Divorce If You Won’t Sign Divorce Papers?

A divorce without consent is a viable option when a defendant doesn’t sign divorce papers. Such an outcome is possible when a responding spouse is either against the general idea of ending a marriage or simply doesn’t know that a divorce case has been initiated. The divorce process in these situations will be almost identical, with slight differences. Check out the table below to understand it better.

Divorce Process
When a defendant refuses to sign papers When a petitioner cannot serve the papers
1.             Fill out case-specific divorce forms and file them with a local court. Pay a filing fee. 1.              Prepare the needed divorce forms, submit them to a local court, and pay a filing fee.
2.             Inform a defendant about the divorce case. A petitioner can hire a sheriff or a process server to do that. 2.              If the petitioner cannot locate a respondent and serve them with papers, they may use alternative methods, such as publication in a local newspaper.
3.             A defendant typically has a specific period to respond to the divorce petition. In Pennsylvania, the answer must be provided within 20 days. If they do not respond within this timeframe and have no justifiable grounds for delay, a petitioner may ask the court to proceed with a default judgment divorce. 3.              A petitioner may have to demonstrate to the court that they have made reasonable efforts to locate the respondent. Usually, it is necessary to make publications in the newspaper for several months in a row.
4.             When requesting a default judgment from the court, the party starting a divorce needs to provide evidence that the defendant did not respond within the required timeframe. 4.              The court may impose a waiting period for a defendant to respond even if they were served through alternative means. A default divorce will occur if the respondent does not submit an answer.
5.             The judge reviews the petition, supporting documents, and evidence to ensure everything is in order. If so, the court may issue a default judgment. 5.              A petitioner can request a default judgment if the other party fails to respond within the allocated period.
6.             With a default judgment, the court finalizes the divorce, making decisions on issues based on the petitioner’s requests. The divorce becomes official. 6.              The court will finalize the divorce based on the petitioner’s requests. The petitioner will get a Final Divorce Decree.

Simply put, when one spouse is interested in terminating a marriage, they can ultimately get the desired outcome even when the partner disagrees. In this case, they will have a default marriage dissolution. A default divorce timeline varies because of state-specific laws, waiting periods, case complexities, and the court caseload. Typically, default divorces are finalized shortly after the waiting period expires.

If you received copies of divorce papers and think of what happens if a respondent doesn’t respond to a divorce petition, you should consider several negative consequences:

  • Your case will be categorized as default divorce. So, court decisions on property division, child custody, etc., will be based on the petitioner’s requests without your input. In other words, you have no control over the outcomes.
  • If a defendant does not comply with court orders issued in their absence, such as paying child support, they may face enforcement actions, including fines.
  • The uncertainty and anxiety associated with legal proceedings and potential negative outcomes may influence the defendant’s well-being.

How Long Can You Extend a Divorce?

If you have tried Googling “How long does a divorce take if one party doesn’t agree to sign divorce papers?”, you probably know that there is no definite answer. Of course, when one party isn’t interested in amicable marriage dissolution, the process is likely to become longer, more complicated, and emotionally taxing.

Anyways, if you want to find an answer to “How long can a divorce be put on hold?”, you should consider such factors:

  • Jurisdictional laws. Laws regarding divorce proceedings differ from state to state. Some states have a mandatory waiting period before a divorce can be granted, while others do not require it. Besides, the time a defendant has to answer the petition also differs. If you search “How long you can delay a divorce in Pennsylvania?” if you are a respondent, you’ll see that you will be able to wait a minimum of 20 days before providing an answer to divorce documents.
  • Partner’s whereabouts. If you know where your spouse currently resides, you can serve them with documents straight away. If the other party doesn’t prepare the response within the predetermined timeline, it is not your problem. Remember that not knowing about a specific response period isn’t a valid excuse. Anybody can find an answer to “How long do I have to sign divorce papers?” on the court’s website. If a defendant refuses to sign divorce documents, you can request a default divorce and have your marriage terminated without multiple court hearings.

However, if you don’t know where a defendant lives, you need to make publications in a local newspaper. Such a procedure prolongs the process, but you can’t skip it.

  • Case complexities. Sometimes, divorce can be postponed or denied. Can a judge deny a divorce? Yes, in rare cases, they can. So, why would a divorce be denied?


If the court finds that both parties are at fault, considering the legal reasons for divorce defined by the state jurisdiction, the judge may refuse to grant the fault-based divorce. In such a case, in Pennsylvania, spouses may be required to leave apart and wait before their case can be dissolved based on a 1-year separation due to irretrievable breakdown.


Moreover, if there are serious procedural errors in the filing or the paperwork is incomplete or inaccurate, the judge may ask for corrections or additional information before proceeding.


If either party engaged in fraud or misrepresentation during the divorce process, such as hiding assets or providing false information, the judge may intervene and, in extreme cases, refuse to grant the divorce.

All in all, the duration of a divorce, its specifics, and outcomes depend greatly on how efficiently spouses can communicate and resolve disputes. Do you have to agree to a divorce? If there is no prospect of reconciliation and your partner is determined to end a marriage, you’d better agree. By choosing an amicable marriage dissolution, you can reach mutually satisfying decisions and save nerves along the way.