Following the high-profile case of Owens v Owens, where a husband refused to agree to the wife’s divorce petition, the law was changed to prevent the situation happening again. Therefore, citing things such as unreasonable behaviour, adultery, or desertion are no longer necessary to get divorced.

All divorces are now made based on the fact that the “marriage has irretrievably broken down”. The legal implications of this means that a spouse will only be able to “dispute” a divorce in extremely limited circumstances, such as jurisdiction, the marriage already being legally ended or its validity.

If you have a spouse who refuses to engage in the process, there may also be other delays or difficulties, such as dealing with the finances or child arrangements. This article aims to discuss options for keeping the process moving and everything between.

What can I do if my spouse ignores my divorce application?

When your application is processed by the court, it will be sent by post or email to your spouse so that they can acknowledge the proceedings. If you do not have their contact details, or they refuse to provide you with them, there are ways the court can obtain them, such as through the Department for Work and Pensions.

Once the divorce application has been issued, the proceedings will enter a 20-week holding period or “cooling-off period” before you can apply for the conditional divorce order.

Your ex has 14 days to acknowledge the service of the application. If your ex ignores the divorce paperwork and does not respond to the court, you are then required to evidence that it has been received. This can be achieved through personal service, such as asking a process server to personally hand the documents to your ex, or by providing other evidence it has been received, for example, if they have signed for a letter containing the divorce application. Providing you can demonstrate your ex has received the paperwork and has had sufficient opportunity to respond, your application can proceed.

What can I do if my ex ignores dealing with our finances?

Whilst it may appear easier to leave your matrimonial finances unresolved, this could be a mistake. If you do not get it sorted out concurrently with your divorce, the financial claims between you and your ex will remain open. There is no time limit on when a spouse can claim, so there is a real risk your spouse could do so well into the future.

If your ex refuses to co-operate in financial negotiations, you will need to make an application to court. As with the divorce application, you will need to evidence that your spouse has been given the opportunity to engage in the process by making sure they have received the paperwork.

Can my ex refuse to provide financial disclosure?

Should your ex refuse to provide full and frank disclosure to the court of their financial position, then it can make assumptions about their assets and make orders in their absence. The court can also make an award for costs and, in certain circumstances, compensate you for the time lost, for example, if you have had to take time off work. The implications of not making full and frank disclosure include:

  • It is even more likely the case will end up in court with all the extra costs this entails
  • If your ex is legally represented, they are likely to incur legal expenses, which can be substantial
  • If the court orders financial disclosure, and your ex refuses, the court can order them to pay your legal costs
  • The court can also take into account certain conduct during the case when making the overall financial award. This means that your ex could end up with less, even if that does not meet their future needs
  • They could be found to be in contempt of court and be fined or, in persistent cases, end up in prison
  • If your ex was found to be dishonest on their financial disclosure, the order could be set aside, even many years later, and the process will have to start again with new, up-to-date financial disclosure.

My ex says they won’t do financial disclosure. Can I go straight to court?

You will at least need to think about family mediation by way of a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) before you can go to court. This is a pre-cursor to mediation and sets out the information which will allow you to consider whether you wish to attend mediation proper. It will also give your ex the opportunity to discuss their objections with a mediator, who may be able to talk them round. It should be noted that the applicant is only required by law to attend the MIAM, a respondent does not have to attend, although the court may draw adverse inferences from their refusal.

What can I do if my ex refuses to engage in arrangements for the children?

Ideally, any important decisions about the children should be made with the agreement of both parents, but if you cannot agree, mediation may help. Neither of these things may be possible if your ex simply refuses to engage in the process. Unfortunately, a parent cannot be forced to make arrangements to see their children, so if there is no agreement in place or your ex is not playing ball, then your options are limited.

Where all other potential solutions have failed, the court could provide an avenue to resolve the matter, although this should be viewed as a last resort rather than a first point of call. If there is a court order in place and the parent is not taking up the contact granted to them, even then, it is extremely unlikely the court will force them to have contact. This is generally because it will not be considered in a child’s best interests to force an unwilling parent to maintain contact with their child.