Any divorce is a complicated and difficult process, both legally and emotionally. Even amicable spouses have a lot of stressful hurdles. In some cases, the issue that one spouse faces is that the other party refuses to sign the divorce papers. In these situations where divorces are very contested, divorce proceedings can be longer and more draining. It’s important to know what to do if you face this situation.

Why Spouses Refuse to Sign Papers

Some respondent spouses believe that if they don’t respond to or acknowledge the divorce papers, they can avoid or draw out a divorce. Some spouses attempt to avoid being served papers to begin with. If possible, it’s useful to talk with your spouse about why they don’t want to sign the papers. This isn’t always possible if your spouse is difficult to get in contact with or you don’t get along.

Their refusal to sign divorce papers doesn’t stop the divorce, however. You, as the petitioning spouse, can file for a default divorce in Missouri if your spouse does not contest the proceedings.

Legal Timelines in a Divorce

When you file for a divorce, you must serve your spouse the divorce papers. There are several methods to serve divorce papers. If your spouse is avoiding being served papers through other methods, the court may allow you to serve them via publication as a last resort. Talk through this situation with your attorney to determine if all methods have been attempted and the drawbacks of service via publication.

Once papers have been served, your spouse has 30 days to file a response and answer a court summons. The response may include your spouse’s wishes during the divorce process, covering important issues such as:

  • Property division
  • Spousal support
  • Child custody
  • Parenting time
  • Child support

If a spouse doesn’t answer the summons in 30 days, you, as the petitioning spouse, can request a default decision.

Understanding a Default Divorce

Once a default decision is requested, a hearing is set. Papers for this hearing must be delivered to your spouse. In some circumstances, the court will order their appearance. If your spouse still doesn’t appear at the hearing, the court will enter a default judgment on the divorce.

A default divorce judgment has negative effects on the spouse who failed to respond. Instead of preventing the divorce, the spouse has guaranteed that they have no say in the outcome of a divorce. The divorce will become finalized, and anything the petitioning spouse asked for in their initial divorce filing will be granted, including spousal support, child custody, and property division requests.

Under Missouri law, after a default judgment has been made, the spouse who failed to respond has 1 year to file a motion to vacate the court order. The respondent must show good reasoning for why they failed to appear in court after summons or file a response. Not understanding the legal system, or neglecting to answer, is not good reasoning to set aside a default judgment. As a responding spouse, it is in your interests to file a response or appear at a default hearing before a default judgment is made.

Appearance at the Default Hearing

The respondent spouse may appear at the default hearing, even after ignoring the divorce papers. If that happens, a judge is less likely to grant a default divorce. Instead, the judge might order a continuance of the divorce. This allows the respondent spouse time to file their divorce petition with the court. The divorce will then continue the way a standard divorce would.

Benefits of a Default Divorce

If you are the petitioning spouse, there are several benefits to a default divorce. These include:

  • Fewer court costs and attorney fees
  • Less time present in court
  • Any requests made in the initial petition are granted
  • The process of financial disclosure can be avoided

Petitioning spouses should always work with experienced attorneys to ensure the process of filing for a default divorce is done correctly. Otherwise, a spouse may have cause to set aside the default judgment, which will make it as if the judgment never happened. The divorce would then proceed as it would have if your spouse had answered, to begin with.


Q: Can a Spouse Refuse a Divorce in Missouri?

A: If one spouse files for a divorce and the other doesn’t want to get a divorce, it becomes contested. The divorce will still occur, but the proceedings will likely be longer and more expensive. Some spouses incorrectly believe that they can refuse, prevent, or complicate a divorce by refusing to sign papers or avoid the summons. This is not the case. The petitioning spouse can request a default divorce if the other party fails to respond. If the other party doesn’t appear at the default hearing, they will have no say in the outcome of the divorce.

Q: What Is Abandonment Divorce in Missouri?

A: Abandonment is when one party leaves their spouse without mutual consent, and the following is true:

  • Spouses failed to agree about the spouse leaving
  • The leaving party has been gone for 6 months in a row
  • The remaining spouse didn’t pay support to their spouse during this time
  • The remaining spouse didn’t cause their spouse to leave

Abandonment is grounds for the dissolution of marriage.

Q: How Long Do You Have to Be Separated Before Divorce is Automatic in Missouri?

A: There is no way for a divorce to be automatic. Missouri adheres to a no-fault system, meaning that the only reason for divorce necessary is that the marriage was irretrievably broken. However, if your spouse does not agree to a divorce and claims that your marriage is not irretrievably broken, there are several ways that you can still file for a divorce. One of those reasons is that the two of you have lived separately for at least 24 months consecutively prior to filing for a divorce. However, this process is not automatic; you must still file for the divorce.

Q: How Long Does a Typical Divorce Take in Missouri?

A: There is a waiting period of 30 days after filing for a divorce in Missouri. If you have an uncontested and amicable divorce, this is the absolute minimum a divorce can take. However, if you have several issues to work out in your separation agreement, have a lot of assets, or are going through a contested divorce, the process can take many months to several years.

Work With Experienced Attorneys

If you are navigating a divorce with an uncooperative or combative spouse, protect your interest by working with Stange Law Firm.