Even when a divorce has been agreed on by both spouses, the situation can often get contentious. When one party refuses the divorce, it can make things all the more difficult. Divorce isn’t a nice thing to go through, and you probably want it over and done with. When your spouse refuses, the divorce process may stretch out much longer than expected.
A resisting spouse may refuse to sign the necessary divorce papers, or may simply fail to respond to a request for divorce or hide away and bury their head in the sand. When this happens, it can seem impossible to progress the divorce, however, this is not the case. You do have options.
Can I get a divorce?
In England and Wales, you can get a divorce if:
- You and your spouse have been married for over a year
- Your marriage is legally recognised in the UK
- The UK is your permanent home or at least the permanent home of your spouse
- Your relationship has broken down
Under previous law, you had to prove that your relationship had broken down irretrievably and cannot be saved. This could be because one party committed adultery, or behaved unreasonably (e.g. violence, abuse, drug-taking) or perhaps you have been separated for two years or more and you both agree to the divorce. However, the new no fault divorce law means that couples can now get married without having to lay blame.
No fault divorce law
The no fault divorce law came into play in April 2022. Its introduction meant that couples no longer had to rely on a recognised reason for divorce. This takes away a lot of the emotional pain often associated with divorce as a couple can get a divorce on the basis that the marriage has simply failed. There is no blame game. The no fault divorce law also has the potential to make divorce less costly as it makes things quicker and more simple.
The no fault divorce law means that from the 6th of April, one spouse can apply for a conditional order for divorce, otherwise known as a decree nisi, 20 weeks after the first filing. After 26 weeks, they can apply for the final order, ‘decree absolute’. As long as the correct procedures have been followed, the divorce will proceed even if the other spouse does not agree.
What if my spouse refuses?
What you can do if your spouse refuses to get a divorce will depend on your circumstances. There are a few instances where you do not need your spouse’s cooperation in order to advance with the divorce – for instance if you have been separated and living apart for five years or more, as mentioned above. You also do not need their cooperation if you are basing the divorce on your spouse’s unreasonable behaviour. In other cases, it can be a little trickier.
When you file for divorce, your spouse will be sent an Acknowledgement of Service form alongside the divorce papers. This form will give your spouse the opportunity to agree with the divorce, or detail their intent to try and prevent it from happening. The Acknowledgement of Service form must be completed in order to confirm that they have received the divorce papers, and they have eight days to respond.
If they do not respond to the form, this could be their way of refusing the divorce. This can be very frustrating, and not to mention expensive and time-consuming in the long-run. You can progress with the divorce, but you will need to satisfy the court that your spouse has received the divorce papers. You have a few options here.
What are my options?
Re-serve the divorce papers to your spouse
You can pay an additional fee and instruct the Court Bailiff to re-serve the divorce papers to your spouse. This will serve as enough proof to the court that your spouse has received them and you can progress. Alternatively, you can use a Process Server. This is very similar to instructing a Court Bailiff, however, the Process Server will often go to greater lengths to effect service, and therefore your prospects of success will be better. Once the Process Server has delivered the papers, they provide you with a certificate service which you must present to the court. This is usually the quickest way of proceeding, if your spouse is being difficult.
Apply for a Deemed Service
Perhaps you have hard evidence such as a letter, text, or email from your spouse in which they confirm that they have received the divorce papers. In this case, you can make a separate application for what is referred to as Deemed Service. In this instance, you won’t need to arrange for your papers to be re-served through a Court Bailiff or Process Server. The decision to grant Deemed Service is made at the judge’s discretion, so if you apply for it, it does not necessarily mean that you’ll be granted it.
Your last resort is usually Dispensed Service. You can only apply for this if you have tried all of the above three options without success and it is the only means to progress with the divorce without your spouse’s Acknowledgement of Service form. This is only allowed if the court is completely satisfied that you’ve done absolutely everything you can to find your spouse and serve them with the divorce papers.
Once you have utilised one of the above options (or all of them), you should be able to progress to the next stage – the Decree Nisi stage. The Decree Nisi is a document that says the court sees no reason for you not to divorce. At this stage, you will not need any further reference to your spouse. You will not need them to attend to any other documents in order to secure the Decree Absolute, which is what will complete your divorce.
What if my spouse tries to defend the divorce?
It is not always the refusal to acknowledge a divorce that can complicate proceedings. Your spouse may actively try to defend and prevent it. Perhaps they do not accept that the relationship has broken down, or they do not agree that the grounds stated in the divorce papers are correct. In the event of a spouse defending the divorce, they must file with the court an Answer to Divorce form that allows them to state why they disagree with it. They have 28 days to submit this.
If they do not submit this form, then you can go ahead and apply for the Decree Nisi. If they do submit it in time, you may have to go to court to discuss the case and the ultimate decision will be left to a judge. Defended divorces are very rare. It’s a costly and often futile process, with the court usually being reluctant to force couples to remain married.
If you and your spouse really can’t come to an agreement, then always seek legal advice from a solicitor that specialises in family law, such as us here at Bromfield Legal. We can help you decide on the best route to take, and we’ll contact your spouse and their solicitor so that you don’t have to. We can also represent you in court if necessary, in order to get the issues dealt with as smoothly and professionally as possible. Contact us today and let us guide you through this difficult time.