An angry spouse may believe otherwise, but he or she cannot stall a divorce by not signing the divorce papers. The court grants the divorce. All jurisdictions now recognize no-fault grounds, so the judge signs the decree, officially terminating the marriage. Thus the filing spouse does not need his or her partner’s agreement or signature.
When one spouse wants to end a marriage, no-fault divorce makes divorce, like death and taxes, inescapable.
Despite the inevitability of a divorce, sometimes the opposing party acts in bad faith when facing an unwanted divorce. This can happen because people sometimes go over the edge when facing a divorce. Realizing they are losing someone they love or time with their children or their money, they become bitter and twisted with anger. Moreover, sometimes overzealous attorneys join in to help the party obstruct the proceedings or use the legal system to punish his or her estranged spouse. Judges call such maneuvers in bad faith.
The most common tactic is delay. Delaying the proceedings drives up the cost of the action for both sides. A party may fail to respond to the divorce petition, and then ask the court for more time. He or she may ignore requests for documentation substantiating assets, so negotiations or the trial might be delayed. Running up legal fees may not be apparent until a pattern establishes itself over time, such as motions asking a judge to address minute details or endless correspondence that cost money to answer. Stalling tactics are usually pretty obvious.
More serious forms of bad faith conduct involve secreting marital assets. Sometimes when someone plans a divorce, he or she hides an asset in advance, which makes it more difficult to detect. Once a divorce is underway, litigants and their attorneys usually try to identify and value marital property. Discovery requests can include documents that date back years. A brokerage account may be transferred long before filing for divorce, but statements going back years may reveal the transfer.
Lying about income is another form of bad faith. A spouse misrepresents income to reduce child support or eliminate alimony. Detecting this deceit may involve checking credit card records or a monthly budget. A self-employed person may siphon off cash receipts, pocketing them rather than depositing them into a business account. A divorcing spouse may even ask an employer to withhold bonuses until the divorce is over.
Children can become proxies when parents battle over custody issues. The uninvolved parent who demands full custody may be dodging child support. It is not uncommon for a parent to allege domestic violence in an attempt to portray the other spouse as bad parent. Custody issues also drag out court actions.
In the end, bad faith stalling and delaying at best becomes a Pyrrhic victory that costs money and magnifies the pain and suffering for both spouses. Courts have other ways to deal with hiding assets, lying about income, and making false accusations.