Ian Butterworth
Partner & Solicitor
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Date Published:28 Jun 2017 Last Updated:26 Jul 2021

What to do when your Spouse Refuses to Sign the Divorce Papers

Family Law

A common problem within divorce proceedings is that the other party chooses to bury their head in the sand and ignores all of the paperwork which they receive from the Court, including the Acknowledgment of Service form which you will need them to complete to confirm (a) that they have received the divorce papers and (b) that they do not wish to contest the proceedings. In the absence of your spouse attending to this document, it can often seem almost impossible to progress the divorce. Thankfully, this is not the case.

The key to preventing your spouse from holding up the divorce proceedings is to anticipate the possibility that they may refuse to cooperate. In most instances, this means that it would be wise to base the divorce on their unreasonable behaviour. Unlike if you issue on the grounds of your spouses’ adultery or two years separation, you will then not need their active cooperation to progress your divorce. You will simply need to satisfy the Court that they have received the papers.

Assuming that you have commenced the proceedings on the basis of your spouses’ unreasonable behaviour, your options in terms of progressing your divorce without them completing and returning their Acknowledgment of Service are as follows:-

  1. Bailiff Service – You pay an additional fee (presently £110) and instruct the Court Bailiff to re-serve your Divorce Petition on your spouse. Once the Bailiff has effected service, you will no longer need your spouse to complete and return their Acknowledgment.
  2. Service through a Process Server – This is very similar to instructing a Court Bailiff to re-serve your Petition. The advantage is that the process server will often go to greater lengths to effect service and therefore your prospects of success in this regard will be better. The downside is that instructing a process server is likely to be more costly. This could cost upwards of £150.
  3. Deemed Service – This is an option where 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 from the Court. In this instance, you do not need to arrange for your Petition to be re-served through a Court Bailiff or process server. You merely need to make a separate application for deemed service exhibiting your evidence.
  4. Dispensed Service – This is effectively an option of last resort. It is designed to cover situations where it has proved impossible or will be impractical to confirm service through one of the other means.

Once you have utilised one of the above options, you should be able to progress your divorce to the next stage (i.e. the Decree Nisi stage) without further reference to your spouse. For the avoidance of any doubt, you will no longer need them to complete and return their Acknowledgment. You will also not need them to attend to any other documents in order to secure the Decree Absolute which what will complete your divorce.

Should you require any advice or assistance with your divorce or with regard to your financial position following your separation, please do not hesitate to contact Ian Butterworth through this firm’s Family Department on 01202 636223.