How to Handle a Spouse Who Intentionally Delays Divorce

Divorce may be a long and challenging process for some couples, and it almost always takes longer than you want it to. Most spouses want their divorce to be over as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

One typical question clients ask is, “how long is my divorce going to take?” The answer depends on how cooperative and motivated each spouse is to finalize the divorce. 

A divorce can be finalized relatively quickly if both spouses are motivated and fair. However, if one spouse wants to be difficult and delays the process, it can take years to finalize a divorce.

Mandatory Waiting Period

Many states require specific waiting periods during the divorce process to allow both parties time to reflect on the divorce. 

In almost every state, when you file for divorce, even if the divorce is uncontested, a mandatory 30 to 90-day waiting period exists before a court can legally grant the divorce. Even if your spouse were willing to get divorced, you would have to wait 30 to 90 days to finalize it. 

The process is more drawn out if your spouse is opposed to divorce. The duration and difficulties of negotiations may increase. The reluctant spouse might require more time to come to terms with the inevitable divorce and, as a result, more time to make sensible decisions. A competent divorce attorney won’t try to force a reluctant spouse to get divorced too quickly or too harshly.

Why Your Spouse May Be Postponing Your Divorce

Your Spouse does not Want to be Divorced. 

Some people don’t want their marriage to be over, and they cling to the hope that, with a little more time, they might be able to save their relationship. This is a possible justification for delaying divorce. Some spouses find it difficult to let go or genuinely think they can save their marriage.

Your Spouse is Acting in a Vindictive Manner. 

Some spouses are angered by the idea of a failed marriage and divorce and wish to watch their spouse suffer through a protracted divorce. Delaying the divorce is one way for these spouses to feel in control because they typically believe they have little control over the divorce issue.

Your Spouse is being Manipulative With Money. 

The most malevolent reason for delaying a divorce is when your ex-spouse attempts to hide assets, fails to disclose financial information, intentionally runs up your attorney fees, refuses to pay child support, and denies you access to the family home. Spouses who do this frequently fight to prevent you from collecting your rightful settlement.

Your Spouse is Delaying Over the Fear of Not Being able to Support Themselves Financially or to Obtain the Upper Hand on Finances. 

Frequently, if a spouse is concerned about finances, delaying and stalling can wear down the other spouse so that concessions are made on the financial settlement.

Your Spouse is Concerned About Custody and Visitation Schedules 

Sometimes divorces are delayed over a genuine concern over child custody and visitation. If the spouses are fighting over custody, this will inevitably lengthen the time necessary to finalize the divorce. 

12 Common Ways Spouses Attempt to Delay a Divorce

Divorces can occasionally be postponed because the other spouse attempts to delay things.   The following are typical tactics spouses use to delay a divorce. 

1. Misusing the discovery process

Both parties typically require evidence during the divorce process. However, some spouses may delay the process by filing several motions and requests with the court. The procedure suddenly slows down as you are required to provide large amounts of data.

2. Requesting a continuance

Your spouse may request a new trial date by informing the judge that they did not have enough time to prepare for the trial. Your spouse might be able to claim that they have not yet hired an attorney and need additional time before the divorce can be finalized.

3. Breaking their promises

The parties to divorce typically make verbal agreements, such as who will live in the house or which bank accounts will be used to pay household bills. An oral agreement could be abruptly broken if one spouse wants to put off the divorce, creating new problems that require the court to intervene in the dispute, which leads to delay.

4. Making false and unfounded allegations

In a particularly contentious divorce, your spouse can accuse you of child abuse or neglect and seek an order of protection against you. Anytime there is an allegation of abuse or neglect, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem for the child and order an investigation. This will increase the time and make child custody and divorce issues more difficult.

5. Forcing you to submit motions to obtain financial information

You may need to submit motions to get accurate information about your spouse’s finances. Spouses are supposed to provide all their financial information voluntarily. If your spouse delays the process by concealing assets or using other cunning strategies, this will delay the divorce. This procedure could take a long time if your spouse is uncooperative.

6. Frequently rescheduling meetings

Rearranging appointments with the mediator or between you and your attorneys is a common strategy used by a spouse attempting to delay a divorce. This frequently occurs at the last minute, forcing you to choose a future date. Your ex can put off the divorce until they feel ready if you do this.

7. Not signing documents

If your spouse has refused to sign the necessary divorce papers, you won’t be able to officially file for divorce until your spouse has signed their forms. This could lead to a drawn-out divorce process. Unfortunately, many have utilized this perfectly legal and widespread strategy to postpone divorces.

8. Frequently switching attorneys.

Even while your spouse might have good reasons for hiring a new attorney, they might attempt to put off your divorce if they keep looking for different legal counsel. Your divorce will be delayed while they look for new legal representation each time until they locate one.

9. Refusing to answer phone calls, texts, or emails.

One way to delay a divorce is to stop communicating. A typical delay tactic is to refuse to answer calls or respond to texts or emails to put off dealing with the divorce. 

10. Refusing to respond to demands for information and discovery.

The rules of civil procedure usually give a spouse 30 days to respond to discovery requests. However, if your spouse refuses to provide timely answers, it can take months to get the matter in front of a judge for an order to provide information. 

11. Abruptly terminating mediation sessions

Walking out on mediations without negotiating in good faith is a common delay tactic. It takes months to schedule a mediation. One common delay tactic is to agree to mediation but then refuse to negotiate in good faith during the mediation.

12. Repeatedly canceling mediation and settlement conferences without justification.

Scheduling a court appearance or a mediation is complex and time-consuming. It is frequently challenging to get each spouse’s, the judge’s, the mediator’s, and the attorney’s calendars coordinated. Last-minute cancellations of mediation or settlement conferences can lead to months of delay in finding the time when everyone will be available again.

Delays Resulting From Complex Legal Issues

Depending on the complexity of the issues involved in your divorce, it is not uncommon for a divorce to last six months or longer. When children are affected, the procedure generally takes longer. It might be necessary to do discovery, value, and analyze the marital property and conduct assessments and investigations on the health and best interests of the children. This naturally increases the likelihood that a divorce will go longer than six months. While delays might be annoying, doing these things properly during a divorce is necessary to safeguard you and your children.

How to Handle Your Spouse’s Efforts to Delay

1. Obtain a Final Hearing Date

What should you do if your spouse is delaying the divorce? In most circumstances, the solution is relatively straightforward. If your spouse unnecessarily delays the process, the most common answer is to schedule your case for a final trial. In most states, a notice of a final trial must be given to the spouse at least 45 days in advance. It may be time to request a final hearing if your divorce takes longer than necessary.

However, giving notice of a final trial does not mean that your case will go to a final trial. Many disputes are resolved during mediation, often just before a trial. But frequently, those settlement discussions do not begin until the case is about to go to trial. Thus, even while no one wants their case to go to a contested trial, scheduling a trial may help the case get past all the unwarranted delays.

2. Obtain a Scheduling Order From the Court

If a spouse delays the divorce, filing a motion for a scheduling order is common. The order will give a timeline for all discovery to be completed and the case set for the final trial. Once the judge issues the scheduling order, it will be challenging to get a continuance unless there are some extraordinary circumstances.

3. Ask the Court to Order a Mediation

If your spouse delays the case, you can file a motion with the court to request mediation. Mediators are well-trained to help spouses settle their divorce cases. Mediators will understand how to stop your spouse’s delay tactics and advance the divorce.

A good mediator will work with you to ensure you are not left alone during the divorce process. They can help you make the most of your divorce by advising on the steps you should take.

4. Request a Judge to Impose Sanctions on Your Spouse.

You might be forced to turn to the judge if your spouse refuses to comply with demands for documents during discovery or mediation sessions. If your spouse ignores deadlines or other court orders, you can ask the court to impose legal or financial consequences on them through your attorney.

You might also be compensated for any additional legal fees you paid due to your spouse’s excessive delay in taking action.

If a court determines that there has been an abuse of the divorce process, it may order one spouse to cover the other spouse’s legal bills and other divorce-related expenses. When there has been a deliberate attempt to delay the case, many jurisdictions have laws that give the court discretion to mandate the payment of attorneys’ fees. 

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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