Maybe you were expecting it – maybe you weren’t. Divorce papers showed up on your doorstep. What now? What happens if you don’t sign them? Our Charlotte family law lawyers and Charlotte divorce attorneys explain your options when served divorce papers.
Do you have to sign if you’re served divorce papers?
You do not have to sign divorce papers. However, if you are properly served, the case can proceed even if you do not sign. You must respond and participate in the proceedings if you would like to contest any issues in the divorce.
What happens if you don’t sign divorce papers in North Carolina?
If you don’t sign divorce papers in North Carolina, the court can still issue the divorce. The other spouse must take the extra step to prove that they properly served the papers. There may be a slight delay to complete alternative service under North Carolina court rules. But the divorce can proceed without your signing the papers.
Can you get a divorce in North Carolina if one party refuses to sign?
A North Carolina court may still order a divorce if one party refuses to sign. The only requirements are that the parties live apart for one year, and one of the parties lives in North Carolina for six months. Consent from both parties is not necessary for a divorce.
(Source: Divorce after separation of one year on application of either party, G.S. § 50-6)
When a Spouse Refuses to Sign Divorce Papers in North Carolina
A divorce begins when one party files a complaint and the other paperwork in the appropriate court. The next step is serving the other spouse with the papers. North Carolina courts have specific rules for how service can be made. The most common way is asking the local sheriff’s office to complete service. There is a small fee.
If the sheriff is unable to complete service, service by registered or certified mail is the option. A private delivery service like FedEx or UPS can also service the documents. Of course, this requires a signature confirmation from the recipient spouse.
Sometimes, the spouse knows what’s about to happen when they see the delivery driver pull up. They may refuse to sign. The person may think that they can stop the other spouse from getting a divorce. They may want to make it difficult. They may also want to send a message that they don’t want to get divorced.
If you choose not to sign divorce papers, there are a few things you should know:
1. The divorce will continue anyways
Even if you don’t sign the divorce papers, the divorce can continue anyways. The court can grant a divorce even if you never sign a piece of paper or appear at a hearing.
2. The filing spouse must complete a method of service
Not signing the divorce papers means that the spouse must complete service in another way that doesn’t require a signature. The North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure create service rules for this situation. The purpose of service rules is to ensure that the other side has fair notice of the proceedings and the opportunity to participate. If all else fails, the court may allow service by publication. Alternative service can create delays and hassles, but ultimately, the filing spouse can fulfill the requirements without a signature.
3. If you don’t participate, you don’t get a say
If you don’t sign divorce papers or reply to the complaint, you give up important rights. You have 30 days after service in North Carolina to respond. If you don’t, the divorce can proceed in default. You may lose your right to claim alimony (spousal support). Plus, you give up your right to contest property division and equitable distribution of assets.
Declining to participate in divorce proceedings is a big decision. You’re essentially giving control of your assets and your rights to your spouse. Understand that if you default, you’re waiving rights that you will not get back. Be sure you understand what rights you’re giving up and that it’s genuinely what you want to do.
4. If you respond and participate, the case goes to mediation and then trial
When a spouse signs the initial divorce papers, they are just that – initial divorce papers. They are not signing the final divorce papers. The summons and complaint only start the process. Once the case is underway, it continues until it resolves by agreement or trial. If you respond to the complaint, you may engage in settlement negotiations. If you don’t reach a settlement, the case goes to court for a trial.
Do I need to sign the divorce papers?
There is little to gain by refusing to sign divorce papers. The case will proceed. If you don’t sign and don’t respond to the complaint, you give up important rights. Getting divorced impacts your current assets and may impact your rights far into the future.
When you’re served with papers, you have 30 days to respond. Do not ignore this timeline. Once you respond, it’s critical to identify and pursue legal issues to work towards a favorable judgment.
How can an attorney help with divorce papers?
Have you received divorce papers? Are you wondering what to do if the other spouse refuses to sign divorce papers? The papers are just the beginning. There are many steps to getting a fair judgment.
The Remington & Dixon PLLC family law lawyers can help you with each part of the divorce process. We understand how to serve papers in compliance with court rules. We can help you take the next step if the other party refuses to sign, or we can help you understand your rights and options when signing the papers and responding to the complaint.
A divorce can impact you for years to come. The decisions you make now may have lasting consequences. When you hire our firm, your problems become our problems. We’re dedicated to providing top-notch representation in family law. Get in touch with us today.
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Jennifer is a founding partner at Remington & Dixon, PLLC. Jennifer concentrates her practice in the areas of family law, wills & estates, unemployment benefits appeals, and traffic. At Elon University School of Law, Jennifer was the vice president of the Public Interest Law Society and a member of the Family Law Society. During law school, Jennifer interned at the Elon University School of Law Field Placement Clinic with Legal Aid of North Carolina where she represented clients in domestic violence court proceedings.