- October 20, 2021
File Under: Divorce
What Are Your Options When Your Spouse Doesn’t Want a Divorce?
Many people may be unsure about the next steps to take for ending a marriage in New Jersey when their spouse refuses, says no or insists on remaining in the marriage. The emotional aspects of irreconcilable differences about whether or not to divorce can be challenging on multiple levels. However, New Jersey law allows you to pursue and obtain a divorce, even when one party does not want to proceed.
No-Fault Divorce in New Jersey
Under New Jersey law, you do not need to prove “fault” — wrongdoing, like abuse, extreme cruelty or adultery — in order to obtain a divorce. While fault-based divorces remain available in the state, the only thing necessary to dissolve a marriage is to prove that you have irreconcilable differences with your spouse. Of course, the decision of whether or not to remain married or to seek a divorce qualifies as a significant irreconcilable difference.
This kind of no-fault divorce is available, even when one party refuses to participate in the proceedings. To obtain a no-fault divorce, you must show that you have had irreconcilable differences for at least six months and affirm that there is no reasonable possibility that you will reconcile.
No one can force you to remain married, and no spouse can block the other from exercising their right under state law to obtain a divorce. However, there can be complications that accompany the process when one spouse refuses to participate or rejects any form of divorce negotiations.
There are many reasons why one spouse may reject the divorce. After all, most people do not decide to divorce at the same time. Even if there are problems in the relationship, one spouse may have religious objections to a divorce, want to preserve the relationship or be concerned about the social fallout of ending a marriage. In other cases, the situation may devolve into a power struggle about the various aspects of the legal process accompanying a divorce. A New Jersey divorce lawyer can work with you to chart a course to move forward even when one spouse is recalcitrant.
In many cases, a refusal to accept a divorce may indicate emotional pain or a desire to remain married. However, in other situations, abusive partners may attempt to continue to control the relationship by refusing a divorce or even threatening to harm themselves. This is one reason why it is so important why only one spouse needs to want the divorce in order to end a marriage in New Jersey.
You Do Not Need Consent to Divorce Someone
While the consent of both parties is necessary for marriage, only one party’s consent is necessary for divorce. In the past, divorce laws often required both parties to agree. However, the danger this posed to abuse victims and others in high-control relationships, often women, led to legal reforms that ensure that no one is forced to stay married. A family law attorney can provide detailed information about the next steps for your situation. In general, the requirements to seek a New Jersey divorce are:
- Having a legally sound marriage
- Fulfilling necessary residency requirements
- Presenting legally acceptable grounds to end the marriage, whether on the basis of fault (such as adultery) or no-fault (such as separation or irreconcilable differences)
- Filing the necessary documentation with the court
When both parties agree to divorce, it can help the process move much more smoothly. In some cases, an initial refusal to divorce is later changed to acceptance or even agreement. By working with your divorce attorney and potentially a counselor or other mental health specialist, you can determine whether it is best to slow down the process and give your spouse time to adjust or whether pursuing the divorce as quickly as possible is the most appropriate option for your situation.
When One Spouse Refuses to Participate in the New Jersey Divorce Process
There are several paths that a New Jersey divorce proceeding may take when one spouse refuses to divorce. In some cases, the divorce may become more contentious, and the spouse who does not want the divorce may hire an aggressive family lawyer. They may pursue sole custody of the children or a large financial settlement, and they may insist on going to court rather than reaching a settlement agreement on matters like property division and spousal support.
However, in other cases, one spouse may refuse to participate in the legal process at all. Once you file for divorce, the case is given a New Jersey docket number. Your divorce attorney may work with you to develop proposed settlement agreements and present them to your spouse. However, if your spouse refuses to accept the papers, does not file a response to them or does not show up to court when the case is on the schedule, the divorce will still move forward. One spouse cannot stop the divorce by refusing to participate in the process.
In fact, refusing to participate in the legal process at all will often result in negative outcomes for the recalcitrant spouse. If they hired a family law attorney and argued for their interests, they could present their views to the court on matters like child custody and asset division. When one spouse refuses to participate, however, the other spouse can seek a default judgment. Here, the trial court judge will review all of the evidence submitted by you and your family lawyer before issuing a final order on relevant divorce legal matters, including child custody and support, spousal support and property division.
When only one side submits evidence and arguments, that is all the trial court has to rely upon when making a decision. It is always in either spouse’s best interest to participate fully in the dissolution of a marriage. While courts do not seek to issue default judgments, in order to preserve fairness, one party may not block a divorce by boycotting the hearings and legal papers.
When the Divorce Becomes Contentious
In most cases, both parties benefit from reaching an agreed-upon settlement of the key issues during a divorce. However, many spouses that refuse to divorce do not abstain from the proceedings. Instead, they may aim to make the process as difficult or costly as possible in hopes that this will lead the other spouse to change their mind about proceeding with the divorce.
Reaching a voluntary agreement on financial matters and how to handle child custody exchanges and communication is often best for both parties, cutting down on the length of time and the cost of the process. In some cases when one spouse rejects a divorce, however, negotiations may go nowhere, leading you and your divorce lawyer with the decision to go to court and seek a formal hearing before a judge rather than the affirmation of an agreed-upon settlement.
This may take more time and add expense to the process, depending on the complexity of the situation involved and the arguments presented by both spouses. For example, couples with extensive investment or business income and multiple children may have more issues presented in the divorce than a couple with no children and income only from employment. While pursuing an agreement acceptable to both parties is often the fastest and most cost-effective way to divorce, a court proceeding — no matter how contentious — is also an option to finalize a divorce when necessary.
If you are dealing with a spouse refusing to divorce, it can be important to have the right legal advice throughout the process. Contact Lawrence Law by calling us today at 908-645-1000 or using our secure online form to request an initial consultation at our Watchung or Red Bank, New Jersey, office.