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What Happens if You Don’t Sign the Divorce Papers?

It’s a common occurrence in movies and television: One person wants to get a divorce to move on with their life, but their stubborn ex refuses to “sign the papers.” Hijinks ensue as the protagonist tries to navigate their relationship with their ex and their plans for their new life while unable to get the divorce they need. As with most things you see on TV, the situation is very different in real life. Continue reading to learn what happens when one spouse refuses to agree to the divorce, and contact a knowledgeable Englewood divorce attorney for help with a New Jersey family law matter.

New Jersey is a No-Fault Divorce State

New Jersey, like every other state in the country, allows for no-fault divorce. No-fault divorce means that the parties can file for divorce without proving one of the traditional “fault” grounds such as adultery or abuse. The plaintiff filing for divorce needs only to show that the spouses have experienced “irreconcilable differences” for at least six months before filing, that those irreconcilable differences have led to a breakdown of the marriage and make it appear the marriage should end, and that there is no reasonable chance for reconciliation. The parties must also satisfy the New Jersey residency requirements.

One Spouse Can’t Fight the Divorce

While the definition of “irreconcilable differences” as explained above may sound like a significant requirement, in practice, it’s not. Courts are typically not going to second-guess a court filing that alleges the spouses are experiencing irreconcilable differences and should no longer be married.

Nor can the defendant–the party who receives the papers after the plaintiff files for divorce–unilaterally stop the divorce by claiming that there are not, in fact, irreconcilable differences. As a matter of practice, if one spouse claims there are irreconcilable differences in the marriage, and the other spouse disagrees, that disagreement can be used as proof that there are, in fact, irreconcilable differences. The purpose of no-fault divorce is to allow people in the modern world to divorce when they choose to, without the need to prove some serious wrongdoing and without the permission of their spouse from whom they are desperately trying to divorce.

Default Judgments

A divorce is a legal proceeding in civil court (called a “dissolution in New Jersey”). It’s like any other lawsuit: If you are properly served with the appropriate papers, you do not get to unilaterally decide to ignore the proceeding. If a defendant is served with the divorce complaint and summons, they have a set amount of time to file a response, typically 35 days. In those 35 days, they can choose to file an “Appearance,” meaning the defendant does not object to the divorce but may disagree with certain remedies sought in the complaint. The defendant can also file an “Answer,” directly asserting whether they agree or disagree with each part of the original complaint. The third option is to file a “Counterclaim,” which is typically reserved for situations in which the defendant wants to challenge the reason for divorce–such as if the plaintiff accuses the defendant of fault and the defendant wants to accuse the plaintiff of fault in turn. It’s also possible to ask for more time to respond.

If the defendant does not respond to the complaint within the requisite amount of time, the plaintiff can move for a “default judgment.” A default judgment essentially gives the plaintiff everything they asked for in the complaint. They will get their divorce, as well as alimony, child support, custody, property, and anything else they seek in the complaint. The defendant will have no say in the matter.

So, if you choose to simply not “sign the papers,” then you are giving up your right to litigate your side of the divorce. It is almost always better to retain your own attorney and fight for your property, custody, and other rights in the divorce.

Experienced Advice and Representation for New Jersey Divorces

If you’re facing divorce in New Jersey or dealing with child support, child custody, property division, or other family law issues, contact the Englewood family law attorneys Herbert & Weiss at (201) 500-2151.