What if My Spouse Won’t Cooperate in a California Divorce?

Anyone going through a Divorce can attest to how stressful and complicated the process can be. This much is obvious.

Time and time again, studies have shown that getting a divorce is often one of the most stressful life events. To make matters worse, many find themselves in a less than amicable divorce, with a spouse who may say that they will “refuse to sign the divorce papers” when they are served.


Spouse wont sign divorce papers

For some reason, Hollywood seems to be obsessed with ‘signing Divorce papers’ and creating a variety of intrigues surrounding this task. Many soon-to-be-divorced couples may envision they too may have one of these dramatic divorces as perpetuated in the media, but the truth is, thinking you need your spouse to “cooperate” by signing papers, or somehow “agreeing” to the divorce, is false.

What does it mean to be an “uncooperative spouse”?

When someone states that their spouse is “uncooperative” they are usually referring to:

  1. the spouse or respondent does not wish to sign the ‘proof of service’
  2. the spouse does not wish to be divorced
  3. the spouse does not agree on issues that the parties may have

…but when it comes to divorce in California, it can be finalized even if the spouse does not want to “sign the divorce papers”, be divorced or agree on issues!

What to do when your spouse won’t sign the ‘proof of service’?

  1. have a friend or family member (not a child of the marriage) serve the spouse
  2. arrange for a process server to serve the spouse
  3. arrange for a sheriff to serve the spouse

Remember, ‘service’ is the start of the divorce! The court requires a ‘proof of service’ which is a formal notification that a divorce petition has been filed. It is mandatory that service is made, but the spouse or respondent does NOT need to sign anything as the other people listed above will do that!

In California, a divorce can proceed through the courts, and can be finalized…even if the spouse refuses to sign any papers.  

Here’s how it works:

  1. Petitioner files for divorce
  2. Petitioner serves spouse–if spouse refuses to sign proof of service or does not appear to be cooperative, spouse can be served by someone over the age of 18 (not a child of the marriage) or by a process server or sheriff; in this case the person who serves, signs and dates the Proof of Service; the spouse simply receives the paperwork
  3. Spouse may not wish to respond or do anything with regard to the papers served; if this occurs and the 30 days to respond have passed, the petitioner can then file  ‘default’ paperwork with the courts
  4. If there are issues that need to be resolved, the petitioner (not the respondent) will go before the judge and he/she will usually make a decision based on what is reasonable.
  5. If there are no issues to be resolved, the petitioner may not have to appear in court at all; the divorce would be finalized without an appearance

What if your spouse does not wish to be divorced?

You can still get divorced. Arrange for someone else (not a child of the marriage) to serve your spouse. Wait the 30 days and then file a ‘default’ when he does not respond (meaning he does not file a ‘response’ with the court). If you have no issues (support, custody, If you have no issues (support, custody, division of assets & debts) then in most courts you will be divorced without going to court. If you have issues you will go to a ‘default’ hearing and the judge will make a ruling (your spouse will not be invited).

However, if your spouse does respond then you will need to go to trial unless, during the divorce process, the spouse is willing to cooperate and sign a ‘stipulated judgment’ which is an agreement with regard to any and all issues.

What if you cannot agree on issues like support, custody etc.?

You can go to court for temporary orders by filing a Request for Order and then file for a trial date. In these instances, the judge will make a ruling on all issues.


Questions about your divorce? Give us a call – we are here to help!



Why a default divorce is a good thing:

A ‘default divorce’ is a divorce in which the respondent (the spouse being served) does not respond i.e. he/she does not sign and file the ‘response to dissolution of marriage’ paperwork. The respondent has 30 days to ‘respond’ and once the 30 days is up, the petitioner can enter a default.

A ‘default divorce’ can be a good thing as it finalizes the divorce relatively quickly and cheaply. If there are no issues, a default divorce is usually finalized within the 6 month & 1 day time frame (from the date of service) and most often without a court appearance. When there are issues, a default hearing is scheduled for only the petitioner (the respondent is not invited), a lawyer is usually not needed and the judge makes a ruling based on only the petitioner’s testimony.

Default divorces are very common in California. It is one way that divorces are finalized when the respondent does not wish to agree or dispute.  If the petitioner goes to court, he/she does not require an attorney because the opposing party is not in the courtroom.

However, if the non-cooperative spouse decides to respond when served, then the divorce is contested. Most contested divorces end in a trial–but not all. Even if the spouse responds, an agreement on issues can still be made. This would involve a ‘stipulated judgment’ which is simply an agreement that is prepared after the spouse responds. It’s a good idea to have the Attorney prepare this to assure that all issues are addressed and that a court appearance is avoided.

There are times when a respondent ‘responds’ when there is no need i.e. there are no issues to address. When this happens, a short agreement can be prepared and filed with the final paperwork so that the divorce can be finalized without a trial.

If you have a spouse who will not cooperate, our experienced Attorneys can advise you and suggest reasonable options.


We offer low flat fees for divorce.!

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  1. richardpinn says

    Hi my is richard I started my divorce in 2005 the defendant didn’t respond now it the statute has run out but its still in the system the court said if me and the defendant give a notarized statement stating we both still wish to go forward with the divorce the court will concider it but she won’t respond once again I have sent three certified letters requesting a statement from her she ses she’s going to do it but she keep making excuses wy she hasn’t done it . Plaese help

    • says

      Give us a call @ 1-800-HELP-444 (1-800-435-7444) to discuss. Your spouse does not need to cooperate if she did not Respond when served. If this is the case, it is a ‘default’ divorce. If this is not the case i.e. she responded, then you will need to request a trial date. We can help you…give us a call.
      Thank-you for contacting Legal Action Workshop–THE LAW FIRM THAT OFFERS LOW FLAT FEES!

    • says

      Your spouse does not need to ‘respond’. However, the court does need a proof of service. It sounds like you will need to start the divorce all over again as she is not cooperating. If she does not respond once the 30 day time frame is over, you would need to enter a ‘default’ to finalize the divorce. Please call us at 1-800-HELP-444 (1-800-435-7444) to discuss.

  2. Kelly Mulligan says

    what can you do if your spouse refuses to sign the final divorce settlement when you both waved all financials?

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      This is a good question. Is your spouse refusing to sign the Marital Settlement Agreement or Stipulated Judgment? We would need more information, but generally speaking if he does not wish to sign these documents, you may have to go to trial. If you wish to discuss, please call our offices @ 818-630-5503 Monday to Friday 8:00 am to 8:00 pm.
      Thank-you for contacting Legal Action Workshop–THE LAW FIRM THAT OFFERS LOW FLAT FEES!

  3. Ginger says

    What if my spouse will not present tax documents for our divorce? He is primary and uncooperative… And there is a protective order in place against him.

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      If you can get a copy of a recent tax return, that would be ideal. You can also guess as to what he earns. If you are requesting spousal support and/or child support then he would need to come forward with proof of earnings. It would be best to give us a call @ 1-800-HELP-444 so that we can assess your situation i.e. are you the petitioner, did the respondent respond, are you asking for temporary orders, do you have an attorney, does he have an attorney etc.?
      Thank-you for contacting Legal Action Workshop–THE LAW FIRM THAT OFFERS LOW FLAT FEES!

  4. Ken says

    What if the respondent spouse (actually non responding), has a 401k or SEP IRA or Roth IRA? Will the judge make a judgement on that also? Will I have to subpoena a report on this?
    Thank you.

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      If your spouse has not responded after the 30 day time period then you have a ‘default’ divorce and if you have issues, you will require a ‘default’ hearing before the judge. Your spouse should have been served with an ‘income & expense/assets & debts’ form that he needs to fill out. This would have the information regarding his retirement plan. If he did not fill it out, you can guess as to what is in that (you may look at a recent tax return). You may also call the plan if you have information on it. This is an issue in the divorce & the judge will need to rule on it as well as any other issues.

  5. beck says

    Please help me I am sending a certified request for divorce but spouse tells me he will not sign and I will be left “with nothing on the streets” including the second car he bought during our marriage for me (which in California is determined community property between us). I have been unemployed for more than 5 years due to a mental disability and we have been married for 3 years but lived together for 12. I don’t recieve any firm of government aid or SSI although I filed twice with my doctor’s signature AND fee. I will need this car to go back to work, even house cleaning so I can move away from him and hire a lawyer for request of temporary spousal support and lawyer/court fees. Also he is refusing to show me any of his taxes although he claims me as a dependant. Isnt this illegal? how can I obtain a copy of his taxes on my own? he is extremely verbally abusive and lying and cheating. i need to get out now for the sake of my sanity. Even pushing aside my agoraphobia so I can work to pay for these legal fees and basic shelter. please respond, I will have money soon enough.

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      It doesn’t sound like you are doing the process correctly. First, for divorce, the only dates that matter are the date of marriage and date of separation. Second, to serve the spouse (if he lives in the same state) when he is not cooperative–he should be served by a ‘process server’ or another adult. Have you spoken with an attorney so you understand the process and your legal rights? Where are you located? You may call me @ 818-630-5503 to discuss.
      Thank-you for contacting Legal Action Workshop!

  6. Andy says

    Hi I had papers served to my spouse and had proof of service registered with the court. She did not file a response. I have a pension that I can claim in about 6 years. I have also been very generous and have kept her on my insurance for her medical issues for 4 years since our separation. She has verbally said she will not go after my pension or alimony but she is on permanent disability and don’t trust her word. Not to mention she has not cooperated, filed a response, or shown up at the paralegals office that I set up for her to go to to fill out income and expense declaration. I need to get this done. Can I just claim a default divorce without fear of her getting my pension? We are in California, Placer County.

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      We don’t recommend working with a paralegal on a divorce with issues as that person cannot advise you and there is a good chance that your divorce will not be finalized. The law is very specific about pensions, retirement funds, investment funds and they are considered community property. Investments made from the date of marriage to the date of separation are divided. You would need an agreement, prepared by an attorney, which would be signed and notarized by both you and spouse in order for the court to allow the pension to not be divided. Unfortunately, a default hearing would likely not approve this.

  7. Nicole says

    I have not served my husband yet, I’ve tried talking to him about it to resolve it easily but he says he is not signing anything. Would it be best to have him personally served right off the bat to move things along quicker?

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      I assume that you have filed the petition for divorce? It sounds like he doesn’t want to be cooperative. In this case you would have him served by a process server or other adult (not a child of the marriage). Once served he has 30 days to respond. If you wish to discuss your case, give us a call @ 818-630-5503.
      Thank-you for contacting Legal Action Workshop–THE LAW FIRM THAT OFFERS LOW FLAT FEES!

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      If the petitioner does not proceed and serve you, then you may go to the court, get a copy of the petition and then file a response. The case will then proceed by trial or by agreement if possible. If this case is in CA and you need help…give us a call @ 1-800-HELP-444.

  8. estella says

    what is the difference between pensions, retirement funds and investment funds. My ex is a retired Federal Gov of 41 years and 8 of them were military. 1st wife did not get anything but 75.00 child support. second wife received 71/2 of his earnings with interest. She gave him everything just to get away from him. I am 3rd and real Estate was dealt with. He is fighting me about his monthly retirement.

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      Do you have an attorney? In California assets (as well as debts) are considered community property unless it is determined that they are separate. All assets need to be assessed from the date of marriage to the date of separation. It sounds like you are in a contested divorce and should get an attorney to represent you and explain each asset to you.
      Thank-you for contacting Legal Action Workshop!

  9. estella says

    He got his divorce and got remarried back in 2014. I am retired from the County and also have monthly pension

  10. Lala says

    I served him 30 days passed served finances and now 90 days passed I have a hearing and he wants to show up what happens then?

      • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

        OK…as I said if he shows up to a default hearing the judge will typically ignore him and not allow him to speak.
        Thanks again for contacting Legal Action Workshop!

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      Have you already filed a default? Do you have a default hearing? If he shows up to a default hearing, typically the judge will not let him speak as he is not part of the case if he did not respond.
      Hope this helps!
      Thank-you for contacting Legal Action Workshop!

      • Lala says

        I have a family law conference he has not filed any response and I have sole physical under a 3 year restraining what happens if he shows up but has not filed anything

  11. Steve says

    I live in CA. My wife filed and I responded earlier this year. We came to agreement on custody and have joint with me having physical custody. She has now left and I have no address or anything for her. I believe she is dragging feet because she has vehicle that is mine and knows she will be losing it. We had come to a basic agreement on financials but then she moved away without ever finishing the process.What can I do to get the divorce finalized?

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      When you came to an agreement regarding custody, was there anything in writing that was submitted to the court? If there was nothing submitted and you cannot find her (in order for her to sign an agreement) then you will need to file to request a trial date and go to trial. If you need additional help, give us a call @ 818-630-5503 to discuss.
      Thank-you for contacting Legal Action Workshop–THE LAW FIRM THAT OFFERS LOW FLAT FEES!

  12. Leyla says

    So I filed and served him in january he has not responded I have a family conference in july and the six months ends in august I also have a 3 year restrainkng order what happens if he shows up to the conference

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      Have you entered the ‘default’? Did you file the proof of service with the court? More than likely this conference at the court is a ‘status’ conference due to the fact that nothing more has been done in your case. If you wish to discuss your divorce and how to move forward, please call us @ 818-630-5503…we’re here to help!
      Thank-you for contacting Legal Action Workshop!

      • Leyla says

        Proof of service was filed on all forms no response from him and we have status conference what happens if he shows up

        • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

          Is there a reason why you have not entered a ‘default’ after the 30 days from the date of service? The courts request a status conference when nothing has been done on the case.
          Hope this helps!

  13. Raven Jones says

    I filed and served the papers 11 months ago and he did not respond. We have no community property and no community debt. We were married six weeks. I did not give him my financials FL 140, FL 141, FL 150 FL 160 (I see now that it says within 60 days) do I have to start over?

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      When the respondent does not respond you simply have to enter a ‘default’ with the court. This should be done after the 30 day wait period from when he was served. In addition, the proof of service should have been filed with the court. Your main issues are to make sure he was served correctly and to file the default. If you would like us to help with this, give us a call @ 818-630-5503.
      Thank-you for contacting Legal Action Workshop!

  14. Gina Messenger says

    My fiancé filed for divorce in 2007. He and his ex never finalized the divorce. Apparently there was a final agreement to sign and she never signed. Not for any reason except that she’s a flake. They both fired their attorneys so the divorce just never finalized. In 2012 he received a 5 year notice of dismissal. He filed the required form to keep the case open. He and his ex are on great terms, no fighting, no problems, no property anymore, child support is being paid and there are no issues with regard to the kids. Because she’s flakey, I’m afraid getting her to follow through with finalizing will be next to impossible, especially if she has to appear in court. My fiancée and I plan to marry next year and obviously we need this finalized. How do we go about finalizing the divorce? Do we file a bifurcation or can we simply file a request for a judgement?

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      In what court was the divorce filed? Do you have a case number? Who was the petitioner? Please call us @ 818-630-5503 to discuss.
      Thank-you for contacting Legal Action Workshop–THE LAW FIRM THAT OFFERS LOW FLAT FEES!

  15. Tim says

    Dear LegalAction,
    (This is in California). We have already been to court and agreement was made. The papers went to the other party but respondent refuses to sign. We are now going back to court. In my opinion, this judge has been unfairly biased to the respondent. I just want this to be finalized. What can I expect in court. Respondent will do anything to postpone or delay or add extra cost to this process. Thank you.

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      It sounds like you should simply file for a trial–if you and spouse are not in agreement, the only way to finalize the divorce is by going to trial and having the judge make a ruling.
      Hope this helps!

  16. steven solis says

    my soon to be ex wife and I both want to be divorce and both did the first step but didn’t do the 2nd step in the 60 days time limit and now being told we can’t get a divorce. we both move on and the only thing holding us back is money. we can’t afford to paid, we got job but not great job where we can spend 500 dollars on this and because we live in the poorest county in ca. we are both just making pay check to pay check. now she has a other kid that child support is saying I have to pay for even if the kid not mine.
    just cuz we are still marry on paper but we have not been together for over 10 year. do I start again with step 1 plz any info will help

    • Brenda Platt-Drucker says

      You must ask for a DNA test for the child who may not be yours. Did you go to the ‘self help’ section of your court for help with your divorce? I’m not sure why they would tell you that you can’t get divorced?? Do you have a case number for the divorce that was filed? If you wish to call me with it, I will try to help you. I can be reached @ 818-630-5503.
      Thank-you for contacting Legal Action Workshop!

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