You can still get a divorce if your spouse refuses to sign the divorce papers, but it will be more difficult. The quickest, easiest, and cheapest way for a couple to get a divorce is by getting an uncontested divorce. In order for the court to award an uncontested divorce, both parties must agree to the terms of the marriage dissolution. Uncontested divorce is sometimes called “no fault” divorce since there will officially be no one person at fault for the divorce. To do this both parties must reach an agreement and file it with the Court when the case begins.
If there is no agreement, then you will have to file a contested divorce. If you are the one filing, then you will be called the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff submits the Complaint for Divorce to the court to begin the proceeding. Once this is filed, it will need to state the grounds for divorce.
Grounds for a no fault divorce in Alabama include: the marriage is irretrievably broken down, spousal incompatibility, and voluntary separation for more than a year. Grounds for contested divorces range from things such as adultery and abandonment. You or your spouse must have resided in the state of Alabama for at least six months to file for divorce here. You can file a Complaint for Divorce in the Circuit Court of 1) the county where the Defendant resides, 2) in the county where the Plaintiff resides if the Defendant is not a resident of Alabama, or 3) in the county where the spouses resided together at the time of separation.
Once the Complaint is filed, the Defendant (your spouse) has thirty days to respond. If they refuse to respond, the divorce cannot be considered uncontested, as both parties have not signed a Settlement Agreement agreeing to the terms of the divorce. This means the court will designate the divorce as contested. If the Defendant does not respond within thirty days, you can file a default divorce and the judge will hold a hearing. If the spouse doesn’t show up to the hearing you can get your divorce by default. In Alabama, if your spouse is avoiding service or you cannot find them then there is an alternate route to get your default divorce. To do this without serving your spouse, these default divorce procedures are sometimes called divorce by publication. This is where a spouse filing for divorce puts an ad in a local newspaper about the divorce when the other party cannot be contacted. Generally, if the missing spouse does not answer the advertisement, then the divorce complaint filed by the other spouse can be granted and they can receive their divorce.
If you have a way to make contact with your spouse, you could let them know if they refuse to sign or respond to the Complaint, you may be able to get whatever you ask for from the court via a default divorce. This could help them reconsider the impact of refusing to respond to the court documents. Of course, each couple’s circumstances are different. You should consult your local divorce attorney before moving forward with a default divorce or before reaching out to your spouse to discuss a default divorce. Never put yourself in harm’s way to get them to sign a document if you think there’s a chance of things turning violent.
Things always go smoother when both parties agree. Unfortunately, things don’t always turn out that way. But if your spouse knows that refusing to sign their side of the paperwork may result in a default judgment in your favor, hopefully that can lead to productive discussions about pursuing an uncontested divorce. That option could save you months or years of involvement with the courts and thousands of dollars in legal fees.