These blog postings concern family law matters such as divorce, custody, and child support. If you want to participate in the conversation then feel free to leave a message on any of the posts.

What happens if my wife does not respond to divorce papers?

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. What happens if wife does not respond to divorce papers?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. What happens if my spouse doesn't sign divorce papers in AL?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.   

Can I Change My Mind After I Sign Divorce Papers?

Whether or not you can rescind or amend your divorce proceedings can depend on a variety of factors like what stage you are at in the process and what you have signed thus far. When you decided to file for divorce, you initially signed a Complaint for Divorce with the court. Once you sign the Complaint, there is a mandatory thirty day “cooling off” period under Alabama law. Can I Change My Mind After Signing Divorce Papers?If you decide to rescind your divorce during that thirty day window, it should be relatively easy to do as that is what the cooling off period is designed for – to make sure both parties are certain divorce is what they want. You would need to file a Request for Dismissal with the court. However, if your spouse filed a counterclaim against you then it might still go forward or they would need to file a Request for Dismissal as well.

When you file for an uncontested divorce, you also must sign a Settlement Agreement. This shows the court you agree on all the terms of the divorce and who will get what after your divorce is finalized. If you already signed the Settlement Agreement and no longer want to agree to those terms, you should consult with your attorney. Rescinding the Settlement Agreement is harder than rescinding the Complaint for Divorce and you will likely need the help of an attorney to accomplish it. If you are the Plaintiff it can be easier to dismiss the whole action, since you are the one that began it by filing a Complaint. If you are the Defendant, then you can file motion to rescind agreement, but the claim was began by Plaintiff so that is who would need to dismiss it in most cases. If both parties agree it can be done fairly easily.

Your family law attorney would need to file a motion to rescind the Settlement Agreement immediately and give your reasoning for why the agreement should be rescinded if you are the If you want to change the terms of the Settlement Agreement, especially if your spouse does not, the divorce is no longer uncontested. This will reclassify the divorce as contested and cause the divorce process to go much more slowly.

It becomes much harder to amend or withdraw divorce petitions after the judge has signed the final divorce decree. If you change your mind after the decree is signed, you have limited options. Changing Your Mind in DivorceDivorce decrees cannot be appealed like most cases decided by a judge. Instead, you would have to convince the judge to reopen the case. Changing your mind is unlikely to be a compelling enough reason for the judge to do that. Generally, a judge will only reopen a case if one or both party’s circumstances have significantly changed or if fraud was involved in the divorce negotiations. Things like lying about income, concealing assets, or demonstrating you were coerced into signing or didn’t understand the Settlement Agreement are examples of why a judge may reopen a case. Other than this, once the decree is ordered by the judge then the terms of the divorce may only be altered by mutual consent of the parties if you cannot convince a judge to do it unilaterally.

Usually, unless the final decree has been signed by the judge, the parties can amend or withdraw their divorce petitions fairly easily in an uncontested divorce. How difficult that may be depends on how far into the process you are. Once the divorce decree is signed, it becomes much more difficult to alter the terms of the divorce and very difficult to rescind the divorce. When the judge signs the decree, you are legally divorced. If your goal is to rescind the decree, sometimes it may be easier to just re-marry.