My heart went out to this woman, whose spouse doesn’t want a divorce:
“I want a divorce but my husband doesn’t. I have been unhappy for years. I’ve tried to talk to him. No response. I tried to get him to go to marriage counseling. He said okay, but never went. I told him I was going to a divorce lawyer. He was upset at first, but now acts like nothing has changed. I am beside myself!
I know that getting a divorce is the right thing to do. But my husband is making this so hard! He got the divorce papers but won’t open them. He refuses to show up in court. My lawyer says I can get divorced without him, but I feel so guilty! I know he is going to blame me for everything. What do I do?”
It’s bad enough to have to say, “I want a divorce but my husband doesn’t.” But, when your spouse refuses to acknowledge or participate in your divorce, moving on becomes infinitely more difficult. Not only do you have the burden of doing all the work in your divorce yourself, but you have to deal with the added guilt of looking like “the bad guy” while your spouse portrays himself as the innocent victim.
That is not a position most people would want to be in.
Divorcing a Reluctant Spouse
Let me first start by saying that there is a big difference between divorcing someone who doesn’t want a divorce but will go along with it because he has no choice and divorcing someone who won’t participate in the divorce at all. The former is sad. The latter is infuriating … and not very smart!
If your spouse won’t do anything in your divorce, then settling your case amicably becomes impossible. You can’t settle with someone who won’t come to the table and talk. You can’t make a written agreement with someone who won’t sign the divorce papers.
While you may think that your spouse’s stubborn refusal to participate in your divorce will allow you to do whatever you want in your case (after all, he’s not going to be there to object, right?!), the truth is, you can’t.
Even if your spouse doesn’t show up, the judge is charged with making sure that every divorce judgment follows the law and is reasonably fair. So, while your spouse’s absence might enable you to structure your divorce in a way that benefits you, don’t think you will be able to get away with giving yourself everything while your spouse gets nothing. The judge probably won’t let you do that.
Your Spouse’s Behavior is Going to Limit Your Options
If your spouse won’t engage in your divorce, then your only option for ending your marriage will have to be to go to court. Mediation will be a waste of time because your spouse won’t participate. Collaborative divorce won’t work. You will have to litigate your divorce. That means that, unless you have no money, no property, and no kids, you are going to need a lawyer.
Once you get a lawyer onboard, you are going to have to file for divorce and have your husband served with divorce papers. If he refuses to appear in court, your lawyer will have to default him for failing to appear. The lawyer will probably have to appear in court a few more times while the judge gives your husband every possible chance to participate in what’s happening. Eventually, though, the judge will grant you a divorce by default.
All of this will take time and cost money.
The Perils of Divorcing a Reluctant Spouse
While you might think that divorcing someone who refuses to show up will make everything so much easier, often times the opposite is true.
Every divorce requires you to produce a certain amount of financial information. If you can’t collect all of the necessary information yourself, you are in for a long, drawn out divorce. Since you can’t get information from your spouse, you are going to have to get it from third parties.
You will have to subpoena records directly from banks, credit card companies, and financial institutions. Doing that takes time and costs money.
If you need information that only your spouse can give, and your spouse ignores your requests to come clean with financial documents, you may have to ask the judge to hold him in contempt of court. That is going to make you look and feel like even more of a jerk.
If a judge holds your husband in contempt of court, and your husband still continues to refuse to produce the information that the court requires, he may end up being thrown into jail for a while. Your husband (and probably your kids) are going to view that as being your fault.
Meanwhile, your husband’s continued refusal to acknowledge and deal with your divorce is going to cost you time and money, and make you feel angry, frustrated, and incredibly guilty.
How Can I Deal with the Guilt I Feel Because I Want a Divorce but My Husband Doesn’t?
Feeling guilt is, unfortunately, a natural part of divorce. You promised to stay with someone until death, and now your marriage is ending while you’re both still alive. By deciding to divorce you feel like you broke up your family. Your husband’s behavior adds to your guilt because anyone can see that HE didn’t want this divorce. So, you feel like the divorce is your fault. Obviously, your husband can’t be to blame … or can he?
You may be the person who is finally pulling the plug on your marriage, but I can tell you from decades of experience in working with divorcing people that you are not the only one who caused your marriage to fail. You and your spouse both had a hand in that.
Yes, one of you may have done more to damage your marriage than the other. But, if you look back at your marriage objectively, chances are that you will see that both of you let things slide that you should have addressed. Both of you did things that, in hindsight you can see, hurt your marriage. It doesn’t matter who starts the divorce. Both of you caused your marriage to fail.
Allowing yourself to believe that you, and you alone, caused your divorce is shouldering a burden that is not yours to bear. Your husband is not an innocent victim of your divorce. Quite the contrary.
Your husband’s passive behavior does not make him a saint. What he is really doing is trying his best to manipulate and control you. He is not being passive. He is being passive-aggressive.
Your husband may not be arguing with you in words, but he is fighting with you through his behavior. Especially if you are the type of person who is sensitive to guilt, this kind of fighting can work extremely well.
Divorcing a Reluctant Spouse Means You Have to Be Stronger
When you want a divorce but your husband doesn’t, you have to be strong enough to get yourself through the divorce process while (literally) dragging him along behind you all the way. In order to do that, you have to approach your divorce a little bit differently.
Start by assuming that you will be doing this on your own. Don’t expect your husband to help. He won’t. That means you have to figure out your divorce yourself.
You have to hire the lawyer. You have to gather all of the appropriate financial information. You have to decide how you want to divide things and what will happen to your kids. You have to figure out how you’re going to pay for the divorce and how you’re going to survive afterwards.
The next thing you need to do is to expect, from the beginning, that your divorce is going to take longer and cost more than you ever dreamed. Expect, too, that you are going to be “the bad guy.”
It doesn’t matter if that’s really true or not. It doesn’t matter that it’s not fair. Your husband is going to paint himself as the victim and you as the evil person who destroyed his happy home. If you don’t know whether you can deal with that, hire a therapist now. That will help.
Another person you might want to consult with if you have kids is a child psychologist. While hopefully your spouse will take the high road and try to shield the kids from the worst of your divorce, you have to assume that he is not going to do that.
He may try to recruit the kids to “be on his side” and feel sorry for him. Getting professional advice on how you can deal with this so you can minimize the impact your divorce will have on your children, is a great idea. Do it now.
Finally, before you start the divorce process, make sure you are ready for what lies ahead. You might not be “doing battle” in the traditional sense, but you will be fighting to get through your divorce nonetheless. The best thing you can do is to prepare yourself and, as much as you can, prepare your kids.
Overall, if you find yourself in the position that your spouse doesn’t want a divorce, and you know he or she will flat out refuse to participate in your divorce, take heart. The road ahead of you may be longer than you would like. But, if you stay the course, you can still get through your divorce and end up in a much better place.
Karen Covy is a Divorce Coach, Lawyer, Speaker and Author. She provides divorce and decision coaching to busy professionals and business owners who want to make clear, confident decisions during one of the toughest yet most sensitive times in their life. Karen also helps them navigate through the divorce process with less conflict, expense, and damage to themselves and their children.
Karen is the author of When Happily Ever After Ends: How to Survive Your Divorce Emotionally, Financially, and Legally. She is also the creator of the online divorce program, The Divorce Road Map 2.0. You can connect with Karen on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, as well as on her website at karencovy.com.