Sometimes divorces come as a surprise to one spouse. They may still be in love, they may not have seen the marital problems, they may be stubborn, or they may be abusive and controlling. Regardless of whether they want to stay married or want to use consenting to a divorce as a bargaining chip, your spouse may refuse to sign divorce papers. If this happens, you may have a few options – which our Philadelphia, Pennsylvania divorce lawyers will explain in this article. Always discuss your particular case with a divorce attorney, rather than relying upon general information. The Philadelphia family law attorneys at the Sadek and Cooper Law Offices offer free consultations on divorce cases.
Spouse Refuses to Sign Divorce Papers in PA
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania allows both no-fault and fault based divorces. This means that, unlike in some states, spouses can agree to get a divorce if they both want to. This can usually make divorces quicker and easier. However, in some situations, your spouse will refuse to agree to a divorce, and other grounds must be used to achieve the divorce.
When a spouse does agree to a divorce, it falls under one of two no-fault divorce grounds. The first of these grounds under 23 Pa.C.S. § 3301(c) is based on mutual consent. Under this type of divorce, the parties file the paperwork, go through a 90-day waiting period to make sure they want a divorce, and then the divorce can be finalized. Alternatively, the parties can allege that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” under § 3301(d). In this method, the parties must live “separate and apart for a period of at least one year.” This can begin on the day of filing, or earlier. There is no 90-day waiting period for these divorces, except in cases where the judge thinks the couple might reconcile and cancel the divorce.
These divorces are similar, but function differently in court. For a mutual consent divorce, both parties must file affidavits agreeing to the divorce. For a divorce after separation, you may achieve a divorce with only one party filing. If the other party does not deny that the marriage is irretrievably broken or that they have lived separately for a year, then the divorce goes through. This means that merely “not signing” is not always enough to stop a no-fault divorce.
If the other party denies that the marriage is broken and fights your claims, you may need to file for a fault divorce instead.
Filing a Contested Divorce in PA
If your spouse refuses to agree to a no-fault divorce, or denies the divorce in court, you may have no choice but to file for a fault divorce. There is no expectation under PA law that you must remain in a loveless or abusive marriage, and you always have the option of suing for divorce if your spouse refuses to agree to a no-fault divorce. Many times, simply filing can pressure your spouse into negotiations and agreement. Since things are usually smoother, cheaper, and quicker when negotiated between parties, filing the paperwork with the court may be the push your spouse needs to come to the table and negotiate the divorce.
If not, you can press the court case and have your divorce granted if you can prove there is a justified reason for a “fault” divorce. These fault grounds do not necessarily “blame” one party, but are based on one spouse’s actions or problems. In PA, the following fault divorce grounds justify a divorce under 23 Pa.C.S. § 3301(a):
- Desertion for one year or more;
- “[C]ruel and barbarous treatment” that put your life or health in danger (i.e. abuse);
- Bigamy (i.e. your spouse was already married);
- Your spouse was sentenced to prison for a crime for two or more years; or
- Your spouse made your “condition intolerable and life burdensome” by their actions.
Alternatively, you can also get a divorce if your spouse was institutionalized (e.g. for mental health reasons). For this to work, your spouse must have already been institutionalized for 18 months, and will not be discharged for another 18 months with no signs of improving.
Filing a fault divorce is often more complicated than a no-fault divorce and requires bringing the proof of your divorce grounds to court. Hiring an attorney to represent you during your divorce can help you prove your case, get the divorce, and deal with the other effects of divorce. This can make things like determining asset division and agreeing to child support orders much simpler. Talk to an attorney today if your spouse will not agree to a divorce.
Philadelphia Divorce Lawyers
If your spouse refuses to agree to a divorce, you may have no choice but to file a fault based divorce in PA. For a free consultation on your divorce case, contact the Philadelphia family lawyers at The Sadek and Cooper Law Offices today. Call 215-814-0395 today for your free consultation.