What Happens When One Spouses Refuses to Take Part in the Divorce?

SignatureKhloé Kardashian filed for divorce from Lamar Odom in December 2013, with reports at the time claiming the couple’s divorce would be quick and easy thanks for a far-reaching prenuptial agreement the two are said to have in place.
It’s now May 2014 and according to some sources, Odom is refusing to participate in the divorce process by allegedly failing to file a response to papers.
As one report has it: “The split should have been simple, since the couple has a pre-nup. But ever since Kardashian filed, Lamar hasn’t been returning phone calls and text messages from Khloé regarding the divorce.”

The reason for Odom’s reluctance to go along with the divorce is thought to be a desire to eventually reconcile with his wife; by postponing the divorce through his non-action, he might believe it buys him time to win Khloe back, say sources.

Does this approach work? When it comes to marital reconciliation, becoming uncommunicative and avoiding contact as a way to possibly “wait out” the other spouse’s resolve to divorce is usually only a recipe for antagonizing the other spouse even more.

There are also far-reaching legal ramifications when one spouses refuses to take part in the divorce. In short, in New Jersey, you don’t need the approval of your spouse to move forward with a divorce. When one spouse files divorce papers, it is essentially the same as filing papers to sue someone. The complaint will not go away just because you don’t respond.

In New Jersey, the defendant in the divorce (that’s you if your spouse was the one who filed first) has 35 days from the date the papers were served to respond to the Complaint and file any counterclaims. If you fail to do so, you are essentially handing over control of your divorce settlement to your spouse, and to a judge, who has the ability to enter a default judgment of divorce and divide up your assets and make decisions about child custody and child support in any way he or she sees fit.

As overwhelming as it can feel, take a deep breath, and start reading through the paperwork to understand what you are being asked to do. Confused? Uncertain about what to do? This is a great time to contact an attorney, who can walk you through how you can respond and address your needs in the action.

None of this means you need to give up your hope of reconciling with your spouse. At the same time, you could request that you and your spouse enter marital counseling. Couples who do reconcile may use the financial information they collected during the divorce process to help them write up reconciliation agreements and/or prenuptial agreements to strengthen their marriage moving forward.

The bottom line? Ignoring the situation is unlikely to make it better.