How to Proceed with an Unresponsive Spouse in Florida

Learn to navigate an unresponsive spouse in divorce proceedings in Florida. This guide offers insights into the legal processes and your rights.

A spouse can file the divorce petition, which does not require the other party’s signature. In addition, Florida is a no-fault divorce state, and there are only two grounds for divorce: irreconcilable differences or mental incapacity, with no fault needing to be established. The petitioner needs only to express his or her desire to end the marriage. This will open the divorce case with the court without the consent of both parties. The papers can be filed without discussion with the partner or making sure he or she is in agreement. The initial divorce action requires only one person. However, if both spouses agree, they can change the initial petition to suit both of them regarding the division of marital property or child custody.

Spousal Refusal to Sign

If the other spouse refuses to sign the petition, they must be served, often through a sheriff or licensed process server. If the unresponsive spouse avoids service by withholding their location, alternative methods exist to serve them, such as regular mail, registered mail to the last known address, or a local newspaper notice.

Why Some Spouses Refuse to Sign Divorce Petition

There may be several reasons why a spouse will not sign the divorce petition. Perhaps he or she is hoping the marriage can still be saved. Or the recalcitrant spouse may be hoping for leverage and a better deal when splitting up assets or with the custody of the children. In other cases, said spouse may simply wish to make matters as difficult as possible. It is important for the petitioner to understand the reasons behind the refusal to cooperate. 

Continued Failure to Cooperate

Some partners will remain uncooperative. In such an instance, the petitioner can continue with the court case. If the uncooperative spouse refuses to provide any response or attend the court hearing, the judge has the power to enter a default judgment granting the divorce to the petitioner. The judge will likely grant all or most of the petitioner’s requests without a valid response from the other party.

If the other party remains unresponsive, the judge may hold him or her in contempt until the party complies with the court’s requests – such as agreeing to mediation prior to trial. 

If the Divorce Goes to Trial

The majority of divorce cases are settled prior to going to trial. However, if the unresponsiveness continues, the judge may determine that a trial is necessary to resolve the issues. If this happens, instead of the couple working out their difference on their own or through mediation, the judge will make decisions for them using applicable state law, such as attempting to split assets and debts in a manner the judge believes to be reasonable. 

How a Lawyer Can Help

Facing an unresponsive spouse in divorce proceedings calls for legal assistance. A lawyer can help maneuver the process and prevent further legal complications.

Getting a Default Divorce in Florida

If a spouse continues to stubbornly refuse to cooperate, a Florida court will grant a default divorce to the petitioner. Here is what to do to obtain a default divorce:

Gather all documents needed and file the petition for divorce. The spouse will be served and will have 20 days to respond. If the spouse does not respond within the time allocated, the petitioner can file a motion to be granted a default divorce with a judgment. The judge will review the motion.

The petitioner can then appear in court by him or herself to obtain a divorce decree. It is highly recommended that the petitioner consults with a divorce attorney prior to appearing in court. Said attorney can provide advice on rights and options. 


Getting a divorce from an unresponsive partner can be exasperating. However, in the State of Florida, a no-fault divorce can be achieved by filing the proper petition with the court on one’s own. Divorce is rarely an easy process, but when both spouses work together, the entire procedure will be quicker and less drawn out. Since the divorce will happen anyway, cooperation only makes common sense. 

The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.

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