Can My Partner Refuse To Divorce Me?

We have all heard a horror story about a friend or a friend-of-a-friend who went through a difficult divorce. Even when both parties agree to the divorce, the process can still be difficult, particularly when it comes to agreeing how the finances will be split.

What happens when one party refuses to divorce the other? While this could make the divorce process take longer, it does not necessarily mean that all is lost.

What are the grounds for divorce?

In England and Wales, you will need to prove that your marriage has irretrievably broken down and provide one (or more) of five reasons to this effect.

  1. Unreasonable behaviour (the most common ground for divorce)
  2. Adultery
  3. Desertion
  4. Separation for 2 years (with consent from your spouse)
  5. Separation for 5 years (no consent necessary)

In some circumstances, therefore, you will not need your spouse to cooperate in order to advance the divorce. This would be the case if you have been separated and living apart for at least 5 years, for example.

Could my spouse refuse to divorce me?

After you submit the divorce petition, your spouse will be sent the divorce papers together with an ‘Acknowledgement of Service’ form. On this form, your spouse can agree to the divorce or say that they are going to contest (or “defend”) the divorce.

If your spouse refuses to fill in the form at all, this could delay the process. However, there are various options available in order to progress the divorce in this instance, such as instructing a court bailiff to re-serve your spouse with the divorce papers.

If, on the other hand, your spouse decides to contest the divorce in order to try to stop it from happening, this can make the process a lot more complicated. If your spouse decides to go down this – often very costly – route, it may ultimately be up to the court to decide whether or not the divorce should progress.

Under normal circumstances, the courts are unlikely to want to force two people to stay married. However, it can happen. In 2018, the Supreme Court rejected a woman’s appeal to grant a divorce from her husband, who was defending the divorce. This meant that she had to remain married to him until 2020 (five years after she left the matrimonial home), against her wishes.

Fortunately, contested divorces are extremely rare. If you are concerned that your spouse may refuse to divorce you or has said they will ignore any divorce papers they receive, get in touch to book your free consultation with one of our experienced divorce solicitors.


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