Can your spouse refuse to allow a divorce? That’s a good question. When you and your spouse tied the knot, you both had to sign marriage papers in front of witnesses who watched to ensure that you were both doing it of your own free will.  In short, marriage is definitely something that has to be entered into voluntarily by both parties, and they both need to agree to it.

If you’re thinking about divorce, you may be assuming that the same process has to happen in reverse, that both you and your spouse have to agree to get divorced and sign the proper papers. But this is concerning because you may be worried that your spouse is going to refuse to allow the divorce. They don’t want to get divorced, so can they simply ignore the divorce petition, refuse to sign the papers or take other steps to make it impossible for you?

Can My Spouse Refuse to Allow Me a Divorce?

The decision to end a marriage is a personal one that should be made by both spouses. Unfortunately, in some cases, one spouse may attempt to refuse to allow a divorce, leading to a difficult and frustrating situation for the other spouse.

Can a spouse actually refuse to allow you to get divorced? The short answer is yes…and no. Yes, they can refuse to sign the papers or use other tactics to hold up your divorce. However, that doesn’t mean that they’ll succeed. In most jurisdictions, a divorce can be granted even if one spouse does not want it. That said, the process may be more complicated and time-consuming if one spouse is not cooperative.

In order to obtain a divorce, the filing spouse must typically serve the other spouse with divorce papers. If the other spouse refuses to accept the papers, the filing spouse may have to follow alternative procedures, such as publishing a notice in a local newspaper or having a process server deliver the papers.

If the other spouse still refuses to participate in the divorce proceedings, the filing spouse may be able to obtain a default judgment. A default judgment is a court order that grants the divorce in favor of the filing spouse because the other spouse did not respond or participate in the case.

However, it is important to note that even if a default judgment is granted, the divorce may not be final if issues such as property division, spousal support, child custody, or child support have not been resolved. In these cases, the court may require the filing spouse to provide evidence to support their requests and may make decisions on these issues based on the available evidence.

In some cases, a spouse may be able to delay a divorce by contesting the grounds for divorce or by challenging the jurisdiction of the court. However, these tactics are often unsuccessful and may only serve to prolong the process.

You can still get divorced

This may have worked in some cases in the past when divorce laws were very different. But changes have made it easy for anyone to get a divorce, regardless of what their spouse desires. One thing that helps is that you don’t need to find fault for the divorce. You can just cite irreconcilable differences and file for divorce on those grounds.

Furthermore, if your spouse does ignore the divorce petition and won’t cooperate, they are not necessarily needed. After they miss enough deadlines, the court can issue a default divorce in your favor.


Let’s go over some of the most common questions with general answers about what happens when your spouse refuses to allow a divorce. Remember, every case is different, so your answers may differ from those below.

What if my spouse refuses to sign the divorce papers?

In Virginia, if your spouse refuses to sign the divorce papers, it may complicate the process, but it does not necessarily prevent you from obtaining a divorce. You can still proceed with the divorce by filing a “contested divorce” and following the appropriate legal procedures.

What is a contested divorce?

A contested divorce occurs when one spouse disagrees with or contests the divorce. In Virginia, you can file for a contested divorce based on fault grounds (such as adultery, cruelty, or desertion) or on no-fault grounds (living separate and apart for a certain period of time).

How long does a contested divorce take in Virginia?

The duration of a contested divorce in Virginia can vary depending on the complexity of the case and the cooperation of both parties. It may take several months or even longer to reach a resolution through negotiation, mediation, or litigation.

What steps should I take if my spouse refuses to cooperate with the divorce process?

If your spouse is uncooperative, consult with a family law attorney in Virginia. They can guide you through the necessary steps, including filing the appropriate legal documents, serving your spouse with the divorce papers, and representing your interests during the divorce proceedings.

Can I get a divorce if my spouse cannot be located?

Yes, you can still pursue a divorce in Virginia even if your spouse cannot be located or refuses to participate. In such cases, you can request a “divorce by publication” where notice of the divorce is published in a local newspaper, allowing the divorce proceedings to move forward.

Will the court consider my spouse’s refusal when deciding issues like property division or child custody?

In Virginia, the court typically focuses on the relevant legal factors when deciding issues such as property division, child custody, and support. While your spouse’s refusal to cooperate may be taken into account by the court, the final decision will be based on the best interests of the child (in child custody matters) or equitable distribution principles (in property division).

In summary, while your spouse may try to refuse a divorce, it is not ultimately up to them. You may still be able to obtain a divorce through alternative procedures and, if necessary, a default judgment. It is important to consult with a qualified attorney to understand the specific laws and procedures in your jurisdiction and to ensure that your rights and interests are protected throughout the divorce process.

Remember, though, the fact that your spouse is refusing to cooperate does mean this may get complicated. Always make sure you understand your legal options and talk to an experienced divorce attorney.