What if My Spouse Evades Service of the Divorce Papers?

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Divorce Law
This article was reviewed and approved for publication by Attorney Charlotte Christian.

If your spouse evades service of the divorce papers, you still have every right to proceed with the divorce as planned. The only thing your spouse would accomplish by refusing to participate in the proceedings is giving up their right to seek divorce terms that would benefit them.

Dealing with a reluctant spouse can prove a frustrating, upsetting experience. Feel free to talk to your divorce lawyer about any concerns regarding how your spouse’s behavior may affect divorce proceedings. They can advise you of your options and help you take the steps you need to separate from an unhappy marriage.

What Divorce Papers Do—and What They Do Not

Divorce papers represent the beginning of the end of your marriage. You may feel relief, sadness, joy, or a mixture of all three as you sign them, but giving them to your spouse largely represents a symbolic gesture. Your divorce can go through regardless of whether your spouse ever gets and/or signs the papers.

If your spouse refuses to sign or accept the divorce papers, rest assured that you can still get a divorce.

However, your spouse’s refusal to cooperate can only hurt them by:

  • Encouraging a judge to rule in your favor: When one party fails to respond to a divorce petition in time, the judge presiding over your divorce may grant you the terms that you requested.
  • Denying them a chance to speak on their behalf: If one spouse disagrees with a divorce provision, hiring a lawyer and negotiating with the other party offers a productive way to express their grievance. If they refuse to cooperate, they miss this chance.
  • Causing additional frustration for all parties: Evading divorce papers solves nothing, nor does it stop the divorce from going through. This only causes more animosity between the two parties.

Divorce can prove emotionally grueling for all involved, and one or both parties may feel angry or sad about the process in general or their spouse specifically. However, most lawyers do not recommend avoiding divorce papers as a solution.

If you would like a legal professional to assist you with divorce proceedings and even meet with your spouse or their lawyer on your behalf, you may wish to hire a divorce attorney. They can provide reassurance and advice if you face an uncooperative spouse.

What Kind of Divorce Will I Have?

A divorce can take several forms in Alabama. Your spouse’s attitude may dictate which divorce type you have. Other factors, like what kind of jobs you both have and how many assets you share, will also play a role.

Contested Divorce: Pros and Cons

If your spouse evades the divorce papers, they likely disagree with the divorce or some provision of the divorce. When the two parties cannot agree on such major points, you have no choice but to fight through a contested divorce.

How long it takes to finalize a contested divorce depends on how long it takes for you and your spouse to agree on important issues, such as:

  • Custody matters: Who will get physical custody of the children? Will you share the right to make legal and medical decisions about your children’s future, or will that right go to only one parent?
  • Alimony: Will one spouse help financially support the other, temporarily or over the long term?
  • Child support: How will you and your spouse split the cost of raising your children until they come of age?
  • Division of assets and debts: Who will get significant assets like houses, cars, and real estate holdings? Who will be responsible for paying off student loans and other types of debts?

Uncontested Divorce: Pros and Cons

You can file an uncontested divorce if you and your spouse agree to the divorce and all of its salient points (custody of children, asset division, and other matters).

Uncontested divorces typically finalize much quicker than contested divorces, which means less stress and worry for you. However, you or your spouse may change your mind about the divorce’s provisions later. Then, you have fewer options for modifications than in a contested divorce.

Divorce Attorneys Can Protect Your Rights

If one spouse evades the divorce papers, this can signal that they will not help you make the process as smooth as possible. In such circumstances, you may find it even more important and beneficial to consult an attorney about your divorce.

Ultimately, a divorce attorney has the goal of guiding you through the divorce process while fighting for the provisions you have a right to retain. A lawyer can do this in many ways, including:

Evaluating Your Situation

Many law firms offer case evaluations. During this call, someone from the firm can learn your story and explain what you can do about it without placing you under any obligation to retain their services. In other words, you can start to get an idea of your options and whether or not you feel compatible with a specific law firm—without committing yourself.

In addition, the law firm would continue to provide guidance and advice throughout the proceedings.

You could:

  • Ask them as many questions as you need to understand the process, your rights, and the consequences of your spouse’s action or inaction.
  • Call or text them with additional concerns at any time.
  • Rely on their judgment to help you make important decisions about the divorce and your future.

Collecting Evidence

Your lawyer may go to many different sources to acquire evidence supporting the provisions you seek. This can help them to build a strong and persuasive case.

Evidence may include:

  • Interviews with you, your spouse, your children, and any other involved parties
  • Interviews with witnesses who have critical information about some aspect of your marriage or your suitability to retain custody
  • Documentation from your school, employer, doctor, or anyone else relevant to your situation

Negotiating on Your Behalf

If you feel worried about going to court during your divorce proceedings, you should know that many cases do not get that far. Divorce lawyers can often meet—either by themselves or with their clients present—to agree on matters that the spouses cannot agree on unassisted.

Negotiations can also prove beneficial in another way: sometimes, they can make an uncooperative spouse realize the seriousness of the situation and convince them to start participating in good faith. Extended negotiations could also suggest that going to court will prove necessary.

Representing You in Court

Sometimes, a recalcitrant spouse refuses to come to the negotiating table. Then, you may need to go to circuit court. This would not involve a jury as criminal trials do.

Rather, the process may go something like this:

  • Your attorney would schedule court dates with the appropriate court (i.e., the one with jurisdiction over divorces in your area).
  • Your attorney would submit all the evidence that the judge needs to consider promptly.
  • You do not necessarily have to appear in court. Your attorney could represent you in that venue and tell you how it went afterward.
  • Your attorney would argue your case before the judge. If your spouse participates in the proceedings, they or their lawyer can present their arguments.
  • The judge will consider all arguments and evidence. It may take them several months to render a final verdict and notify you of their decision.

As you can see, at no point in this process would you need to manage your case by yourself or confront your spouse alone. Instead, your divorce lawyer could handle most of the hard work, relieving you of the burden of navigating the legal process and giving you more time to plan for a life post-divorce.

A Difficult Divorce and Your Child

Divorces can cause extreme stress for the separating parties and any children connected to the marriage. The children may find the process even more stressful than their parents, even in the best of circumstances, since they have less understanding of the divorce’s events and no control over the situation. All of your stress levels may increase if one spouse refuses to cooperate.

If you face a divorce process with a reluctant spouse, you must safeguard your mental health and your children’s health.

You can do so by:

  • Spending time with your children: Talk to your children as honestly as possible about why you need a divorce. Watching movies and reading books designed to help children through a divorce can start good conversations.
  • Spending time alone: Your health is important, too. Take some quiet time to yourself to process your feelings and do something that you find fun or relaxing.
  • Joining a support group: Divorce happens commonly enough that you can seek out one of many support groups, which can help you navigate divorce’s ups and downs. You can search for an online or in-person group in your area.
  • Asking family and friends for help: The people closest to you can provide an invaluable source of moral or practical support, such as if you need them to watch the kids while you decompress.

In an ideal situation, your spouse would help you safeguard your children against the emotional strain of divorce proceedings. However, if your spouse cannot make themselves available or refuses to participate, you may have to rely on other relatives or close family friends for additional support.

When Spouses Go Beyond Evading Divorce Papers

Dealing with a spouse who will not accept divorce papers can irritate or anger anyone. Unfortunately, someone can take other troublesome actions when their spouse initiates divorce proceedings.

Some people have to deal with spouses who:

  • Threaten them or their children with physical violence
  • Commit actual physical violence against them or their children
  • Manipulate them through actions like threatening to harm themselves if their spouse proceeds with the divorce

If you believe your spouse could act dangerously with you or anyone else in your family, you may need to take more drastic action. You can talk to your lawyer about how to file a protection order against your spouse.

Such an order, found on the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts (AOC) website, will:

  • Provide a description of your spouse and what weapons, if any, they may own
  • Identify the person or persons that your spouse cannot contact
  • Explain what actions the spouse cannot take, e.g., contacting the protected persons
  • Explain what actions the spouse must take, e.g., paying child support

A protection order can keep you and your family safe and strengthen your case for divorce provisions. This could include enforcing sole custody of children. In addition, such an order could establish your spouse’s unsuitability for parenthood and may persuade a judge to rule in your favor.

A Final Word

Charlotte Christian
Divorce Attorney, Charlotte Christian

The Final Judgment of Divorce is a simple, one-page document, which you can view on the AOC website. The judge’s signature will complete this document. In other words, one spouse does not need to get the other’s approval before filing for and getting a divorce.

Hopefully, this fact reassures you. If you want a divorce, your spouse cannot stop you from seeking one. If you cannot locate your spouse or if they refuse to cooperate with the proceedings, you and your divorce lawyer can still file and finalize a divorce that can dissolve your marriage and enable you to move on with your life.

Divorce Lawyers Can Help Clients Through the Divorce Process

Divorce lawyers understand that you could face many challenges during a divorce. However, having a spouse who evades service of the divorce papers can only make things even more stressful.

You can take advantage of a legal case evaluation to learn more about your options. Many family law firms offer no-obligation evaluations to those seeking a divorce. In addition, a legal team can offer sympathetic, helpful guidance as you navigate this difficult period in your life.

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