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What Happens if My Spouse Ignores the Divorce Papers?


The divorce process in Rhode Island begins when one spouse files for divorce. That filing spouse then serves the other spouse. Service provides the other spouse with the official notice and an opportunity to answer the case and file a counterclaim.

Both spouses are often aware that divorce is coming, but that is not always the case. Or even if they do come, one spouse may not want the marriage to end. A spouse may resist a divorce by refusing to sign the divorce papers, but that won’t stop the process. The filing spouse will still get their day in court.

Time Limit to Answer Divorce Complaint

The defendant spouse is asked to file an answer to the divorce no later than 20 days after being served but at a minimum must show up to court on the designated date. If that spouse has been properly served but fails to attend the court date, the judge is authorized to issue a default divorce.

Divorcing a Missing Spouse in Rhode Island

Divorce is also possible when the other spouse cannot be located. The filing spouse must make a diligent effort to find the other spouse. Efforts can include reaching out to their last known email address, talking to their friends and relatives, searching online, and checking the post office for forwarding addresses.

When all reasonable efforts fail, Rhode Island allows the petitioning spouse to complete an Affidavit that they have made a diligent search with the court. The court can then allow a Divorce by Publication. In this type of service, the notice of divorce is placed in one or more newspapers as directed by the court.

Default Divorce Favors the Plaintiff

A divorce attorney will ensure that the complaint is properly filed, the divorce papers are served, and a copy of the delivery verification is filed with the clerk’s office. With this proof of service, the divorce hearing can continue without the participation of the other spouse.

The spouse who filed for the divorce needs to bring at least two witnesses to testify on their behalf. The witnesses will speak to whether the residency requirements have been met (you must have been a resident of Rhode Island for at least one year before filing). They also will tell the court what they know about the grounds of your divorce. If the divorce ground is separation, the witness will provide information about when the two parties began living apart.

Once the judge is satisfied that the residency and grounds requirements are met, the court may issue a default judgment for the plaintiff. Child custody, property settlement, and other divorce issues can be awarded in the manner that the spouse requested in their original filing.

Vacating a Default Judgment

A spouse who chooses not to participate in the divorce process in the hopes of stopping it will instead find that they lose many of their rights. They can seek to vacate the default judgment but that is difficult to achieve.

Experienced Counsel for Your Divorce Action

Divorce is a complicated process best guided by an experienced attorney at McIntyre Tate LLP. If you want a divorce but your spouse is putting up roadblocks, talk to us about what you can do to move forward with the next chapter of your life. In many cases, your spouse will realize that it is in their best interests to answer the filing and appear in court. If they continue to resist, or if you cannot locate them to serve the papers, we have the know-how to keep your divorce on track.

To better understand your divorce options, you should schedule an evaluation with one of our skilled attorneys at McIntyre Tate LLP. We look at the details of each case to strategize how to best support our client’s goal. Contact us online or call (401) 351-7700.