No one takes divorce lightly. Next to the death of a close loved one, divorce is the most harrowing process anyone can ever go through. Divorce is bad enough when both parties agree that the marriage should end. However, what happens when one spouse refuses to cooperate or even shows up to court? Yes, you can still get divorced in Tennessee.
Why Is My Spouse Delaying the Inevitable?
There’s a big difference between divorcing someone who begrudgingly goes along with it and divorcing someone who flat-out refuses to participate or becomes uncooperative later. A spouse’s refusal to participate, especially at the beginning, may just be a part of the grieving process. Sometimes all a spouse needs is more time.
Your Spouse Wants to Stay Married
Some spouses are holding out on the possibility that you will get back together and preserve the marriage. While this is a natural emotion at the inception of a divorce, it becomes problematic when the other spouse acts on it. Their motive might be benevolent, but they are still actively preventing you from moving on with your life.
Your Spouse Is Trying to Regain Control of the Situation
Spouses served with divorce papers commonly feel that the situation is out of their control. By intentionally delaying the divorce process, they feel they have regained control. Other times, it’s strictly about power and forcing the other to suffer through months or years of drawn-out litigation.
Your Spouse Is Playing Money Games
This is the most malignant reason to delay a divorce. In this scenario, the noncooperative spouse may be trying to spite you by running up your attorney fees, avoiding paying temporary alimony, dodging their child support obligations, or concealing valuable assets.
If your spouse frustrates the divorce process, settling your case amicably will be impossible. You can’t settle with someone who refuses to sign anything or acknowledge the divorce in the first instance. Depending on the nature of the conduct and where you are in the divorce process, there are several options for dealing with a spouse who refuses to get divorced.
Get a Default Divorce
Receiving divorce papers from a spouse is no doubt upsetting. However, ignoring or avoiding reality makes the situation more painful. Tennessee courts have repeatedly held that a spouse is entitled to a default divorce when the other spouse refuses service of process or otherwise fails to respond to a divorce complaint within 30 days after receipt.
What Are the Consequences of a Default Divorce?
Generally, a default divorce is the only means of divorcing a spouse who is completely absent from the proceedings. By remaining absent, a spouse forfeits any say in asset division, spousal support, child support, and allocation of parenting time. While Tennessee law requires courts to maximize both party’s parenting time, judges will frown upon a parent’s willful absence from divorce proceedings. Such an act of defiance indicates a complete unwillingness to co-parent and support the best interests of the child.
How Do I Get a Default Judgment?
To obtain a default judgment, you or your lawyer must wait 30 days after the other spouse receives service of process. If the spouse fails to respond to the divorce complaint within 30 days, you can file a Motion for Default Judgment. You will want to send a certified copy of the motion to the other spouse. At the hearing, the court will check to ensure the other spouse indeed received service of process.
In the event service of the process fails because the other spouse’s whereabouts are unknown, you will need to proceed with service by publication. The court will first check to see that you made a diligent effort to find the other spouse. This includes:
- Attempting to contact them at their last known address;
- Attempting to contact them at their last known place of employment; and
- Asking family members and friends about their whereabouts.
If the court permits service by publication, you will publish notice of the divorce in a newspaper from the last known area the other spouse lived. Tennessee law imposes stringent requirements to successfully serve someone by publication. It is advisable to consult an experienced family legal matters attorney for full details.
Set a Trial Date
If your spouse was properly served the divorce papers and responded to the complaint within 30 days, then a default divorce is unavailable. However, it’s common for spouses to play ball at the beginning of divorce and settlement negotiations, only to turn around and refuse to sign the paperwork at the end. In such instances, litigation can become the only option.
At trial, both spouses will have an opportunity to present evidence and call on witnesses on matters of contention. Contested divorces can take months and sometimes over a year. If your spouse is ready to fight you in court, contact an experienced Tennessee family legal matters lawyer as soon as possible.
File a Motion to Compel or a Motion for Civil Contempt
During a contested divorce, the parties are entitled to request that the other produce documents and answer questions relevant to the proceedings. This process is called “discovery.” For example, each party is generally required to disclose all financial assets and liabilities incurred during the marriage. During this phase, it is not uncommon for one spouse to intentionally delay the process by refusing to produce certain records or providing incomplete records.
A motion to compel asks the court to issue an order requiring your spouse to turn over a specific document or category of documents needed to make your case. If your spouse still refuses, the court may hold them in civil contempt. Penalties include monetary fines, attorney fees, and even jail time.
Experienced Family Legal Matters Attorneys Will Fight for You
No one can force you to stay married if you don’t want to be. Spouses who actively thwart the other’s attempts to move on with their life must understand that they cannot stop the inevitable. If you’re a divorcing spouse, especially a divorcing spouse with minor children, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced Tennessee family legal matters lawyer to determine your best options. Batson Nolan PLC, can help you navigate the various requirements and procedures for default or contested divorce. Contact our attorneys today for a free consultation.