As many divorces in Texas are negotiated in some form or fashion – even those divorces that begin with couples intending to litigate – there’s a moment when divorcing couples often envision where they sign their names to a decree document as a final step to finalizing their divorce. And there are some out there, who out of denial or disagreeability, refuse to sign divorce papers when it comes time to do so. What happens then, you might wonder?
In Texas, as the Texas Family Code lays out, starting with Chapter 6, there are a few major grounds for divorce, and not one of them requires both sides to necessarily agree. The first reason listed, insupportability, simply states, “On the petition of either party to a marriage, the court may grant a divorce without regard to fault if the marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities that destroys the legitimate ends of the marital relationship and prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation.”
That means that if just one person in the marriage believes that insupportability applies, and petitions the court for a divorce in Texas based on that, it can move forward. There are other grounds for divorce, such as cruelty and adultery, where it’s far more likely that one person in the marriage will contend those grounds and the other party might be less willing to cooperate in a divorce based on what’s being alleged.
In all those cases, though, the divorce can move forward, as long as the petitioner moves forward filing for divorce in a court. While the respondent has the option to respond, retain a lawyer, and begin the back-and-forth process of a divorce, it can also take place with only one person deciding to move forward, provided that the petitioner observes a 60-day waiting period from the time that person (or that person’s legal representative in court) files the petition.
There are a couple of exceptions to that 60-day rule, most notably involving a spouse being convicted of family violence-related crime involving the petitioner or the couple’s children. But typically, the 60-day waiting period (which does include weekends and holidays) needs to be observed, and by no means does that automatically mean couples have everything together to finalize a divorce on Day 61!
But, as section 6.403 notes, “The respondent in a suit for dissolution of a marriage is not required to answer on oath or affirmation.” Where it becomes in the respondent’s interest to get involved is by having some say in the terms of the divorce. If it’s not a complicated marital estate, though, and a couple is just deciding to part ways, it can end quite quickly and simply with a courtroom hearing.
Theoretically, a petitioner who doesn’t hear back from a respondent can move forward with trying to set the terms of a decree. But should there be a substantial marital estate, and the petitioner tries to forward something that is either “I get everything” or significantly imbalanced, it’s not likely the judge will sign off on it. Regardless of whether your spouse participates or not, you’ll have to disclose financial information and present a decree proposal that meets whatever sort of “smell test” the judge has for these kinds of cases.
Section 6.701 of the Texas Family Code specifies, “In a suit for divorce, the petition may not be taken as confessed if the respondent does not file an answer.” However, if you’re trying to make the case for more parenting time in part based on your spouse’s lack of engagement or involvement, your spouse refusing to participate in your divorce might lend credence to that — but, then again, your judge might also default to the standard parenting plan suggested in the Texas Family Code in lieu of both parties demonstrating agreement to an alternative.
It definitely behooves you to have a knowledgeable family lawyer on your side when navigating this kind of case, and the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance can help in these situations in particular. While it can be frustrating to be in a divorce case where the other party is responding, it can also be frustrating to be in one where the other party isn’t responding. Lisa A. Vance and the rest of the team provides fierce, compassionate representation that can help you meet all the challenges of a case in which your spouse won’t “sign the papers” or otherwise get involved.