If one spouse threatens to not sign divorce papers does that mean there is no divorce?

Dear Liz,
I told my wife that I want a divorce and she said that she would never grant one. Is it true that if one spouse doesn’t want to sign the final papers that there is no divorce?

I’ve heard of this threat before. The thing about divorce is that it tends to bring out to the most vicious and wild knee-jerk reactions from people. If you think about it, it kind of makes sense, no matter how good or bad a marriage is, divorce represents a huge and often scary change for people. Threatening things like taking the beloved dog or not signing the papers is very War of the Roses (seriously, don’t watch that movie right now, it might scare the crap out of you) but in the end, threat or no threat, there are laws that help us figure the trickier parts of this out.

As for your question, I’m going to let my pal Amy tackle this one since divorce law is sort of her thing. Best of luck!

Here is what Amy had to say:

This is a common misperception, but as soon as you think about it, you can see why it would be a problem to allow one spouse to hold up a divorce. The opportunity for extortion or other types of abuse would be immense — “I won’t grant you a divorce unless you give me the house.” It used to be that a spouse needed to prove a ground for divorce; some of the examples would be adultery, cruelty, or excessive alcohol use. That proved to be problematic as trials turned into horror shows — private detectives following folks around looking for evidence of affairs and drunkenness.
So, no, one spouse cannot hold up a divorce. The most common ground for divorce is irreconcilable marital differences. Once one spouse has filed for divorce and alleged irreconcilable differences, generally the court will grant the divorce whether the other party wants it or not. There is a provision in the law whereby the court can order the parties to attend marital counseling, but I have rarely seen it used.

Good luck to you, Robert!

~ Liz