How to File for Divorce When Your Spouse Doesn’t Want One

Filing for Divorce in New Jersey
Divorce is rarely easy. However, it’s surprising how hard it can be for couples to part ways when one spouse wants out and the other doesn’t. Part of the reason for this is that most people simply don’t know much about how divorce laws work or, even, how to begin proceedings for filing for divorce, so they struggle to find their way through the process — held hostage, sometimes, to their own mistakes and misunderstandings.

For one thing, many people believe that they have to have their spouse “sign divorce papers” in order to get divorced. While it’s infinitely simpler to petition for a divorce when both parties are in agreement, you can file a New Jersey Complaint for Divorce on your own as a lawsuit against your spouse. And generally you don’t have to offer any sort of rationale for doing so, either — most states, including New Jersey, have no-fault divorce laws on the books now, so you simply have to demonstrate that you and your spouse have “irreconcilable differences” that have led to the breakdown of the marriage. For instance, in one case, the husband did not want to embarrass his children by airing their mother’s multiple infidelities in court, so his attorney simply stated, “Mr. Jones and his wife no longer share the same moral and ethical values, so it’s not possible to live together in harmony and trust.” That was sufficient for the court to grant a divorce.

You do have to serve your spouse with divorce papers: a “Summons” telling him or her to come to court to answer your “Complaint” for divorce. Spouses who don’t want to get divorced will do anything to avoid receiving those papers — but there are ways around that. If you can prove that you’ve tried hard to contact your spouse by other means (a process called “diligent search”), you can ask the court to allow “alternative service.” This means you have permission to get the papers to your spouse by serving a relative or friend of your spouse with the instruction that they should pass the summons and complaint on. Alternatively, you can publish the summons and complaint in a local newspaper.

Sometimes there are good reasons for one partner to want to avoid another: threats of emotional or physical abuse. If you’ve been victimized by your spouse in this regard and fear reprisals should you file, you should take steps to protect yourself before filing. Consider obtaining a restraining order and secure your personal safety and financial assets first. In such cases, having an experienced divorce lawyer represent you is a must, to ensure that the court recognizes the urgency of your situation.

As you proceed, it is a good idea to understand all of the stages involved in divorce. We have outlined the process in our New Jersey Divorce Road Map.