The short answer to this question is "yes” — either of you can refuse to cooperate on the divorce. The long answer is that the divorce will proceed even if you or your spouse refuse to sign the divorce papers. What will change is the type of divorce and the process for the divorce to move forward.
What Happens When a Divorce Is Refused?
Colorado is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that the parties do not have to provide reasons for a divorce. On the other hand, when a spouse refuses to sign the divorce papers, that divorce becomes “contested.” For the filing party this means two things:
- First, they'll need to file a divorce petition in family court and sign it.
- Secondly, they'll need to formally notify the refusing spouse of the petition action — by serving the papers in person or via either a process server or a local sheriff.
Once a divorce becomes contested, there will be a hearing. The refusing spouse will need to state why they are resisting. It is up to the court to address those reasons and settle them.
Before the contested divorce lands in court, though, the filing spouse can try some other things that could help secure compliance from the other party before continuing with the court.
Try to Come to an Agreement with Mediation
The most common reason for a spouse to refuse to sign divorce papers is that they see some of the provisions as unfair. In this case, it might be productive to hire a third-party mediator who will meet with both parties, hear their arguments, and then suggest compromises that might be acceptable.
If mediation works, then both spouses will sign the papers, and the divorce is finalized by a very short hearing before the court.
When You Can Get a Default Divorce
If neither direct negotiations nor mediation helps, you can still file the divorce petition to the court (without the other spouse’s signature). The court then sets the date and holds hearings.
If the opposing spouse fails to show up for the hearing, the filing spouse can request a default divorce. When this happens, the court will uphold the request with all of the terms of the divorce filing. This will include division of property, custody, child support, and any other unique provisions.
A court will make such a decision because it assumes that the responding spouse, by not showing up, has automatically agreed to the terms of the original divorce filing. But remember, the absent spouse must have been formally served the original filing paperwork and court date notification.
In rare situations, the filing spouse can struggle to locate the other spouse. If that's the case, the filing spouse can attempt a divorce by publication — a special mechanism designed for the cases when one party is missing. You will need to prove to the court that you've attempted a genuine search, tried to inform the other party via mail or by publishing a dissolution of marriage notice in a local newspaper. After the 90 day waiting period, the court will grant a default divorce to the filing party.
Do You Need a Lawyer If Your Spouse Fails to Sign the Papers?
Yes, you do. Whether you are the filing party or the one refusing to sign the divorce petition, you need an attorney. This divorce will be a contested one, and you will need to have the right preparation for the court hearing to come. We are here to help if you have any questions or need to look at all your options!