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What Happens in Washington State When a Spouse Will Not Sign Divorce Papers?


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Divorce remains a part of life for many people. According to data from the Washington State Department of Health, 21,477 married couples filed for divorce in the state in 2020 alone. The divorce process itself can be stressful and confusing. Most people want to get through it as painlessly as possible — but some people are stuck dealing with an uncooperative partner. 

You may be wondering: Can I still get divorced if my spouse will not sign the papers? The short answer is that you can get divorced if your spouse refuses to sign. While the divorce process is smoother if both parties sign the parties, one spouse cannot block a divorce. In this article, our Spokane divorce attorney explains what happens if one spouse will not sign divorce papers (Washington laws). 

Do I Need My Spouse's Signature for a Divorce in Washington?

Hands of someone filling a divorce decree

You do not need your spouse's signature for a divorce in Washington. Washington is a no-fault state, which means that both spouses need not agree to the divorce for the court to grant it. If your spouse explicitly states that they will challenge the divorce and refuses to sign papers, it doesn't matter. The court can still issue a final divorce decree without both parties agreeing. However, an experienced divorce attorney is essential to help you navigate the waters when one spouse fails to cooperate.

What to Do If Your Spouse Won't Sign the Divorce Papers: Your Legal Options in Spokane, WA

It's natural to feel frustrated if your spouse refuses to sign divorce papers. However, their refusal does not stop the divorce from taking place. There is a pathway to divorce that does not require the cooperation of your spouse. An experienced Spokane divorce lawyer can help you navigate this pathway, which includes service by publication and may include seeking a default divorce.

You Can File a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage Without Your Spouse

In Washington State, a couple can file joint divorce papers if the parties agree on the issues. When an option, this is generally the most efficient way to end a marriage. A divorcing couple can agree to an uncontested divorce settlement and they can both sign the papers so that the process can move forward to a final decree.

That being said, you do not need your spouse’s signature to initiate the divorce process in Washington. One spouse can file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage by themselves. By doing so, you are starting the legal process of divorce.

When a Person Files Alone, Divorce Papers Must Be Served on their Spouse

When you file divorce papers by yourself, your spouse has the right to notice. Put another way, your divorce papers must be “served” on the other party. As a general rule, it is best to work with a professional process server when delivering official divorce papers (legal notice) to an uncooperative spouse. To be clear, the divorce process cannot start to move forward until divorce papers have been properly served within a certain time limit on the spouse that refuses to sign the divorce papers and he/she has been given adequate time to review and respond. 

An Uncooperative Spouse Cannot Dodge a Divorce: Default Judgment

What happens if your spouse simply never responds to the divorce papers? In Washington, the answer is that you can divorce anyway. Washington is a no-fault divorce state. Although an uncooperative spouse can slow down the divorce process and make things more frustrating by not cooperating with the filing, he or she cannot stop a divorce by refusing to sign the paperwork. The spouse's consent is not needed. Once a divorce petition has been filed, papers have been properly served, and adequate time has been given for a response, the court can move forward with a default judgment. 

What Does Washington State Law Say About Divorcing When I Cannot Locate My Spouse?

If you can't locate your spouse and would like a divorce, it's not the end of the world — you can still obtain a divorce. Although it may take more time without your spouse involved, Washington law allows divorce proceedings to continue when one spouse is out of the picture. In this case, it is known as a divorce by publication.

To proceed in this context, the spouse seeking the divorce must demonstrate to the judge that they have diligently searched for the other spouse and simply cannot find them. Evidence of this may include records of your efforts to contact the spouse through family, work, friends, and other reasonable avenues. If the judge agrees that you have exhausted your efforts, they will allow for the divorce by publication to be printed in the local newspaper.

Contacting an attorney early on will help immensely in this process. We can help develop a strong case for divorce by publication so you can move forward with your life.

What to Expect When Your Lawyer Handles a Contested Divorce

Divorce is typically a chaotic time filled with confusion and uncertainty. With an uncooperative spouse in the mix, you can expect things to be even more confusing. However, your experienced Spokane divorce lawyer will handle every step of the divorce process. You will never have to worry about what to do next. Instead, your attorney will guide you at every stage until the terms for the divorce are set and a decree is issued.

The important takeaway is that an uncooperative spouse is only a bump in the road. As you now know, no spouse can prevent the other from finalizing a divorce in Washington, even if they fail to sign the papers or disappear. With the aid of a contested divorce attorney in Spokane, WA, your divorce can become a reality, and you can begin a new life with legal assurance.


Can you get a divorce without your spouse knowing?

It's possible to get a divorce without your spouse knowing, but only if they're missing. The courts don't like to blindside spouses with secret divorces, however, so the law requires that a spouse be given notice of a divorce and a chance to respond.

Do both spouses have to agree to divorce?

In Washington, both spouses do not need to agree to a divorce. If you would like a divorce but your spouse refuses to cooperate, you can initiate the process by yourself by completing and filing a divorce petition with the court.

What if my spouse skips the final hearing?

If your spouse doesn't attend the final hearing, the judge may give them a second chance if they have a valid excuse. The judge may also allow the divorce to continue and issue a decree. Finally, the judge could also postpone the proceedings.

What if my spouse threatens me or my children because I want a divorce?

If your spouse threatens you or your children because of your decision, you can protect your family by:

  • Documenting everything
  • Putting safety first
  • Receiving counseling

Always take threats seriously and never hesitate to seek the help of the domestic violence & restraining order lawyers at Hodgson Law Office.

What if my spouse accuses me of something I didn't do to avoid divorce?

False accusations are common in many divorce cases, and dealing with them is tricky. Often, divorce mediation helps bring two parties together to work out their differences. When that is unsuccessful, your attorney will use evidence to disprove your spouse's false accusations.

Mark D. Hodgson

Mark D. Hodgson

Mark D. Hodgson and his legal team at Hodgson Law Office provide exceptional, personalized representation in family law and divorce cases. With a commitment to trust, integrity, and vigorous advocacy, Hodgson Law Office offers reliable and compassionate legal assistance for all your family law issues.

Schedule a Confidential Consultation With a Divorce Lawyer in Spokane

At Hodgson Law Office, our Spokane divorce lawyers provide reliable advocacy across the full range of family law cases. If you have any questions about a spouse’s refusal to sign divorce papers, we are here to help. Give us a call now or contact us online for a strictly private consultation. Our law firm provides family law representation throughout Eastern Washington, including in Spokane, Spokane Valley, Town and Country, Medical Lake, Millwood, Rockford, and Spangle. 

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