Divorce can be complicated and stressful — and the process can become even more complex if you and your spouse don’t see eye-to-eye on divorcing in the first place. You may file for mutual consent divorce only to find that your spouse refuses to sign the paperwork, even after initially agreeing to the divorce.

If you find yourself in this situation, do not worry that you are stuck in your marriage because your spouse will not agree to a divorce. In the end, no Maryland court will force you to remain married against your will. However, there are additional steps you must take if your spouse refuses a mutual consent divorce.

Mutual Consent Divorce in Maryland

Divorce is a traditionally adversarial proceeding in that you and your spouse may not agree on all issues. For example, your spouse may want custody of your children, and you disagree. You want to keep the marital home, but so does your spouse. In these situations, it falls to the courts to decide what should take place.

By contrast, when you and your spouse desire to divorce and agree on all issues, a mutual consent divorce is an available alternative to traditional divorce proceedings. In a mutual consent divorce, you and your spouse sign an agreement that affirms you both wish to divorce and sets out the terms of that divorce. 

The court’s role in this kind of divorce is simply to approve the agreement and enter orders to make it legally enforceable. Both you and your spouse must sign the mutual consent divorce agreement for it to be effective. If your spouse does not sign the agreement, the court cannot proceed with the mutual consent divorce. 

However, a traditional, adversarial divorce remains available.

What To Do When a Consent Divorce is Unavailable

Once your spouse has declined to sign off on a mutual consent divorce agreement, you will need to proceed through the steps of a traditional divorce. These steps include:

Prepare and File a Petition

First, your attorney can prepare a divorce petition setting forth the reason why the marriage should not continue. Maryland recently eliminated its fault-based grounds for divorce, so your petition would merely need to allege that you and your spouse are no longer compatible and the marriage should not continue.

This petition is then filed with the court, along with any supporting documents  you and your attorney deem advisable. Unlike a mutual consent divorce agreement, the only signature that is necessary on your divorce petition and related documents is your own.

Serve a Copy of Your Divorce Petition

Next, your divorce petition needs to be delivered to your spouse so that they have notice you filed for divorce. Your spouse may still attempt to delay or defeat your divorce case by refusing to accept service, but such efforts are futile. 

There are several ways your spouse can be served, and as long as they are served in one of those valid ways, your case can proceed.

Wait to See if Your Spouse Responds to Your Divorce Petition

Once served, your spouse may have 30, 60 or 90 days to file any response to your petition. In their response, your spouse could object to any of the orders you are requesting the court to enter regarding child support, child custody, or property division. 

Although your spouse could also object to your belief that your marriage is irretrievably broken, courts will still grant you a divorce as long as at least one of you believes that the marriage cannot continue.

Finalize the Divorce

If your spouse does file an answer contesting the divorce, you may need to have one or more hearings before the court. At these hearings, the court will receive evidence and decide any contested issues between you and your spouse. This could include property division, child custody, and spousal support.

By contrast, if your spouse does not respond within the time allotted to them after being served, you can petition the court for a default divorce. This asks the court to grant you your divorce and all the orders you requested because your spouse failed to contest them.

A Skilled Family Law Attorney Can Help With Your Divorce

No matter what sort of divorce you are pursuing, getting experienced legal help from a knowledgeable attorney is crucial.

At Blattner Family Law Group, our legal team can help you prepare the necessary forms if you want to pursue a mutual consent divorce. We can also step in immediately if you must pursue a more traditional form of divorce.

Contact us to schedule a consultation with a seasoned divorce attorney today.