In many cases, couples both agree that the marriage isn’t working and that they want out. I’ve had several, though, where one party or the other doesn’t agree, and consistently insists that he or she wants to stay married.
The reality is that you really can’t FORCE someone to stay married; whether you like it or not, one party deciding that they want a divorce is enough to move the case forward. You can slow down the process; you can make it considerably more difficult, expensive, and time consuming, but you can’t stop it entirely. It only takes one to tango when it comes to divorce.
But if you believe in your marriage and you don’t want a divorce, what can you do? Well, it depends on how your husband is trying to move the case forward. If he’s trying to negotiate a divorce and has presented you with a separation agreement, you can ignore it. There’s no legal teeth where a separation agreement is involved, and he can’t force you to negotiate with him. An agreement means nothing – like, literally, nothing – unless it’s signed. It’s a proposal, and nothing more than that.
But you have to be careful… If you ignore the agreement and he’s really serious about moving things forward, he only has one other option, and you may not like it. If you ignore the agreement and don’t negotiate with him, he’ll have to file for divorce. After he files, he’ll serve you with notice of the lawsuit, and you’ll have 21 days to respond.
If you ignore it again, then you’re in default – and he could move forward with the whole rest of the divorce without further notice to you. So, yeah, let’s just say you really don’t want to do that!
Your only real option at this point is to file a responsive pleading – called an answer and counterclaim. You can do this with or without an attorney, but if you don’t know what an answer and counterclaim is, you should probably work with an attorney. I know, I know – that costs money and, at this point, you’ll probably wish you could go back to that whole nice, neat agreement thing. Right?
Well, the good news is, you probably still can. You’ll still have to retain an attorney on a contested basis, file that responsive pleading, and potentially even have a first court appearance – called a pendente lite hearing – first. It depends on exactly what and how your husband filed. But once the court is involved, there’s no ignoring it. There’s no avoiding deadlines or game playing. Well, I mean, there is – but you have to work within the court’s rules, deadlines, and policies. And there’s some risk involved, because judge’s don’t like it when parties behave badly just to make the other party’s life more difficult or expensive.
It’s possible your husband won’t go down this path. Or, at least, that he’ll drag his feet about doing so. Often, I find that husbands are less aggressive than their wives (though, of course, that’s not always the case) when it comes to divorce. He may let the divorce linger for awhile, rather than taking such a big (and expensive!) step forward.
For you, though, it’s a gamble. You can ignore the separation agreement, but there’s a fair bit of peril involved there. If he DOES file for divorce, he can begin to move things forward – and, when he does, there’ll be considerably more expense involved for you.
But, like I often say: you know him better than I do. Maybe you’re better situated to gauge when that point will be, and negotiate just in the nick of time, so that you can avoid the contested divorce. I’ve had women tell me that they want to go very, very slow in their negotiations. So, in those cases, although I can’t completely fail to respond to opposing counsel, I can take a little bit longer to respond than I normally would. (It’s these kinds of clients that skew statistics when people ask, “How long does a divorce take?”) I’ve definitely had cases where clients encourage me to go as slowly as I can possibly go, in an attempt to drag things out. Whether it’s for the sake of obtaining 20/20/20 status or just because the client doesn’t want a divorce, I can certainly push things off – at least for a little while.
Do people ever reconcile?
Yes! It actually happens with some frequency. People negotiate in earnest for awhile, and then, for whatever reason, they decide to try again.
I can never pick the cases where it’ll happen from the ones where the separation is forever, though. Sometimes, the cases where the parties handle the divorce with the most vitriol are (contrary to what you might expect) are the ones who get back together.
I’ve learned not to try to peg people in any particular way. The heart is a mystery, and marriage is complicated. None of us are perfect, but there can be lots of things that draw us together and make us want to try again, even when the situation seems stacked against us.
Even if you don’t want a divorce, it can be a good idea to sit down with an attorney, review the documents you’ve been given, and discuss options moving forward. Whether you decide to move forward now, or wait to see what your husband will do, it’s always up to you entirely, but it’s a good idea to have as much information as possible so that, whatever happens, you can make decisions that further your own best interests. For more information, or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.