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What to Do When You Want a Divorce But Your Spouse Won’t Respond

Divorce is challenging enough when two partners are of a like mind they want to separate, but what do you do if your partner refuses to accept the reality that the marriage must end?

Or perhaps even more confounding, your spouse asked for the divorce but now simply won’t respond or engage in the process? You’re not alone. It can be extremely frustrating to be the one constantly having to steer the ship.

Trying to deal with someone who won’t respond or focus can impede your ability to complete the process of divorce and move forward with your life, so when faced with this circumstance it is important to develop a plan to move things forward to resolution.

  1. Take a deep breath, and accept the reality that your soon-to-be-ex spouse did not, and cannot, change overnight. His or her denial is likely part of a longer history of issues or patterns, and it may be helpful to understand why or how your spouse feels the way they do. Think about what might have elicited a negative or passive response from your spouse in the past, and how they react to different issues or circumstances. It may be that better understanding this dynamic can help you troubleshoot the issues related to separation or divorce. Also, think about what has motivated them to be productive in the past. This may help you develop a plan to move things forward.
  2. Make it easy for your spouse. What do you need to move the process forward, and how can you get it with minimal involvement from your spouse? What does your spouse need to do, and are there actions that you can take on their behalf to move things forward? This can be exasperating when you’ve already spent years or decades taking care of things that your spouse should have addressed, but this time it will be for your benefit, and it is a means to an end. Helping them is really helping you.
  3. Be flexible. If you try something to motivate your spouse and it isn’t working, be willing to try something else. There are many options – talk to your spouse, write to your spouse, give them deadlines, have your lawyer write to them, negotiate directly, present them with an offer, try mediation with lawyers or mediation without lawyers, consider collaborative law.
  4. Have a plan and a timeline. When someone isn’t responding, it’s easy to get in a holding or waiting pattern, or to let things stall when you try something that doesn’t work. Have a plan about what you are going to try, a timeline during which you evaluate the success of the approach and a deadline for when you will consider moving to a new approach if your efforts are unsuccessful. This will help to avoid a fruitless and never-ending cycle, and will prevent you from throwing good money after bad pursuing a strategy that isn’t working.
  5. Set reasonable and measurable goals of progress. Different people move at different paces.
  6. If all else fails, you can seek relief in Court. Court is an adversarial litigation process wherein if you and your spouse cannot resolve your issues, a judge will decide them for you. It can be a long and expensive process, but if it is the one you will ultimately need, the sooner you realize it, the better. Sometimes the simple act of actually filing a court case brings people to the table. But if not, for all its faults, the court process is linear and unyielding, and will ultimately lead to results.

If you find yourself in this sort of situation, the advice of an experienced family law and divorce attorney can be invaluable, especially as you consider your options, develop and implement a strategy, and react and adjust to your spouse’s responses.

Erin Kopelman and Chris Roberts are divorce attorneys who handle cases involving domestic relations and family law, including often-complex matters where a spouse is hiding marital assets. For more information, contact Erin at and Chris at

This content is for your information only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Please consult your attorney before acting on any information contained here.


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