How to divorce an unwilling wife

If you wish to file for divorce, but your wife is unwilling, it is generally still possible to move forward with the proceedings. When you divorce an unwilling partner, you will be involved in what most jurisdictions refer to as a "contested divorce." In such cases, you will need to file a divorce petition, serve it on your wife, file it with the court and then attend a hearing on the merits of your case. Even if your wife refuses to sign the divorce papers, a judge may still dissolve your marriage after listening to both parties' arguments.

Prepare your divorce petition. Pursuant to the laws of your jurisdiction, draft a petition for dissolution of the marriage. In most states, you are required to list basic information about yourself and your spouse, including your full names, addresses, dates of birth and date of marriage. Generally, you must also state your grounds for divorce. Although the allowable grounds vary by state, they typically include adultery, abandonment, voluntary separation and irreconcilable differences.

File your petition with the court. After you have prepared your petition, signed it and dated it, submit it to the clerk of the court in the jurisdiction where you or your wife reside and pay the court's filing fee.

Serve the divorce papers. Once you have filed your petition with the court, you must serve a copy on your wife. Each state determines its own methods of service, but in many jurisdictions you can serve your wife using a sheriff, private process server or certified mail. After your wife has received the divorce papers, under most state's laws, she will need to file a response, either agreeing to the divorce or objecting to it. Alternatively, she has the option of not responding to the paperwork at all.

Prepare to argue your case in front of the court. If your wife is unwilling to sign the divorce papers or submits a response objecting to your petition, you will need to make your case in front of a judge. Your wife will have the same opportunity. According to attorneys from DivorceNet, after each of you has argued your cases, the judge will determine whether to grant the divorce.

Consider working with a third-party mediator. If you do not wish to litigate your case and argue in front of a judge or if you believe your wife may be open to divorce under certain circumstances, ask your wife if she is willing to work with a divorce mediator. A divorce mediator is a neutral third party paid for by both spouses who helps negotiate divorce issues in a non-adversarial setting.


If you are unsure of your rights or have questions about how to proceed with a contested divorce, contact an attorney.


Divorce laws vary by state. The exact process for divorcing an unwilling spouse may be different in your jurisdiction.

bibliography-icon icon for annotation tool Cite this Article

About the Author

Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.