Does my spouse have to sign the divorce papers before I can get a divorce?

This question is an extremely common question in divorce law. Hollywood wants you to believe the only way a divorce occurs is your spouse voluntarily agrees to “sign the papers”. Almost every show or movie involving a divorce has this situation where one spouse wants it and the other doesn’t; so as long as one spouse refuses to “sign the papers” the other spouse is held hostage.

The answer, at least here in Texas, is that no, your spouse does not have to “sign the papers”. Sometimes there are papers your spouse may choose to sign; but there is no requirement under Texas law that your spouse must sign anything for you to obtain a divorce. Let’s talk a little about why you may want your spouse to sign some papers.

Uncontested Divorces in Texas

These “sign the papers” situations normally involve an uncontested divorce, where one spouse wants a divorce by agreement. In uncontested divorces, both agree or one spouse declines to oppose the terms presented by the other spouse. In a Texas uncontested divorce, you can prove the lack of contest in two ways. Both require the other spouse to sign some papers.

When you file for a divorce, you must serve your spouse or your spouse signs a waiver of service. A waiver of service states the signing spouse has received the divorce petition and does not require service. The waiver may also include a waiver of notice for subsequent hearings and a waiver of contest to divorce terms. The benefit of a waiver of service is it is cheaper to sign the waiver than pay for a process server. However, if your spouse refuses to sign the waiver you can still proceed by service.

Whether you have a waiver on file with the court or you had your spouse served, you may have reached a point where you are ready to present a divorce decree to the court for the court’s signature.

Unless the waiver your spouse signed included a waiver of notice and a waiver of any dispute to the terms in a presented decree, you must have your spouse sign the divorce decree. If the waiver did not include those provisions or if you had your spouse served then you can only complete an uncontested divorce by having your spouse sign the decree before it is presented to the judge.

If you do not have the appropriate waiver on file or your spouse does not sign the decree then you cannot follow the uncontested divorce process. You must set the divorce for trial. However, after the trial, the judge or jury will determine the terms of your divorce and you can obtain your divorce even if your spouse never agrees to the terms or signs the decree.

Contested Divorces in Texas

In contested divorces, in which the parties do not agree on the terms of the divorce, there may be “papers” for your spouse to sign, depending on how the divorce plays out. Depending on how hostile the relationship is between you and your spouse, you may or may not have been able to convince your spouse to sign the waiver of service.

However, without a signed waiver you can have your spouse served. Most contested divorces end in some kind of mediation or informal settlement. In those cases, your spouse must sign the decree or a settlement agreement before the court will accept it. If no signature can be obtained or you cannot reach a settlement, then there are no “papers” to sign. You will have to set the divorce for trial. Then the court will sign a decree regardless of the lack of signature.

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