What Are My Options If My Spouse Is Being Uncooperative in the Divorce Process?

Uncooperative spouse in the divorce process

Divorce is about more than just the end of a relationship. It involves the division of assets and often involves children. Few areas of life have more potential to cause strong feelings than money and kids.

If your spouse refuses to cooperate during divorce proceedings, you have a few legal options. An experienced attorney may be able to guide you through some strategies that can get both parties involved on the same page.

In this article, we will explore what an uncooperative spouse may do to delay the divorce process and why he or she may refuse to participate. We will also look at how the other spouse can work with a divorce attorney to counteract these frustrating tactics.

Defining an Uncooperative Spouse

Sadly, a spouse seeking a divorce may discover that there are lots of ways the spouse refusing the divorce can be uncooperative, such as:

  • Taking unreasonable positions: He or she may make unreasonable demands about property division, child support, or spousal support, possibly demanding more than the law stipulates. Another tactic may be refusing to acknowledge that inheritance or gifts received by one spouse are non-marital property, which is usually the case under Utah law.
  • Causing unnecessary delays: Delaying tactics may be used to amp up the stress on the petitioner or to cause extra expense. The uncooperative spouse may frequently change lawyers, refuse to provide needed paperwork, or refuse to negotiate out of court. If he or she fails to file papers on time, it may be impossible to calculate a fair division of property, child support, and spousal support.
  • Using children as leverage: Children should never be used as a bargaining chip in divorce proceedings, but some unscrupulous spouses are not above doing so. One tactic may be to try to force one party to agree to unreasonable financial terms in return for child custody rights.
  • False allegations: Some uncooperative spouses are not above fabricating false allegations of serious matters, such as domestic violence, financial exploitation, and even child abuse.

Facing any one of these situations, or a combination of them, can cause anguish and frustration to the spouse seeking the divorce. However, do not despair. An experienced family law attorney will have seen these and other tactics many times before, and he or she will have the expertise to provide you with legal options.

Why a Spouse May Be Uncooperative

When dealing with an uncooperative spouse, trying to understand things from his or her point of view may be the last thing you feel like doing. That said, the stakes are high, and it is worth doing all you can to get your spouse on board. This could help you achieve the best outcome for yourself and your children as quickly as possible.

Mixed-agenda couples

Researchers coined the term “mixed-agenda couples” to describe couples who have different views of their marriage. One partner may be leaning in, that is, hoping he or she can find a way of patching things up and staying together. However, the other may be leaning out and seeking a divorce.

The study found that discernment counseling can be beneficial. The goal is for spouses to achieve clarity around their partners’ decision to end the marriage. It provides a forum for open and honest conversations. This form of counseling could help an uncooperative spouse get on board and support a more collaborative divorce process.

Fear of the future

The uncooperative spouse may have genuine concerns about his or her future financial well-being and access to his or her children. He or she may feel blindsided by the divorce proceedings and see delaying and being uncooperative as a way of exerting a little control.


Sadly, filing divorce papers can bring out the worst in some people. One study found that 43.4 – 61.2 percent of partners considered taking revenge after marital problems. Therefore, during divorce proceedings, one party may become determined to inflict as much suffering – both emotional and financial – as possible on the other party.

It is worth noting that you are not expected to agree or empathize with your spouse’s reason for being uncooperative. However, giving this some thought and using your knowledge of your spouse and his or her past behavior could help your divorce attorney guide you to the best way of moving things along.

Legal Strategies to Keep Your Divorce on Track

One encouraging point to note is that an uncooperative spouse does not have veto power over ending your marriage. Even if he or she refuses to cooperate, the divorce system has provisions to keep your divorce case moving forward.

Shuttle mediation

Mediation may seem impossible if one spouse refuses to be in the same room as the other. That is where shuttle mediation or caucusing comes in. If a face-to-face discussion is likely to end in conflict, lawyers from both sides can be in separate physical or virtual rooms, with lawyers going back and forth.

Shuttle mediation involves talking to a third party rather than your spouse, which can reduce the emotional toll of negotiations. This approach can be cost-effective, especially if it prevents the divorce case from going to trial. It maintains confidentiality and could help to move the divorce process forward again constructively.

Contested divorce

If your spouse contests any of the terms of the divorce, from child custody to the grounds for the divorce, the court system will intervene. If a contested divorce goes all the way to a courtroom trial, a judge makes the final decisions. The contested divorce process is as follows:

  • Discovery: If the respondent files an answer to the divorce papers and includes objections, discovery will begin. This involves providing extensive documentation related to finances and children.
  • Temporary orders: The judge may create temporary orders regarding who occupies the marital home, child custody, and other critical matters.
  • Settlement: Couples must now go through mediation. In the State of Utah, couples must attend a minimum of one mediation session unless excused for good cause. The goal is to resolve all disputed issues without having to go to trial.
  • Trial: If the spouses cannot reach an agreement through mediation, the divorce will be decided in a Utah family court. Lawyers for each spouse will present evidence to back up their cases. The attorneys can also call witnesses and cross-examine the other party’s witnesses. Finally, the judge will make his or her final decisions and hand these down in the divorce decree.

If you feel the outcome of the trial was unfavorable, you can file a motion to appeal, usually within 30 days of the final decision.

Default judgment

One spouse cannot simply ignore a divorce petition and hope it will go away. If he or she does not file an answer to a complaint or petition within 21 days (30 days if he or she is out of state), you can file forms to request a default judgment. Special exceptions apply if the respondent is serving in the military.

The judge is only able to make findings or orders requested in the complaint or petition. When the judge has signed the order, you can serve a copy of it to the other party.

Serving papers correctly

To protect your legal rights, you must serve papers on your spouse correctly. You can serve them in person or by mail, but you must provide evidence that they were served correctly.

If you do not have your spouse’s address or contact details, you must make efforts to obtain them. If unsuccessful, the judge may allow service by email, text message, or service by publication, which means publishing the summons in a newspaper once a week for several weeks. Your divorce attorney can advise you on the best course of action.

Protecting Yourself and Your Children

An experienced family law attorney can help you deal with the legal process of divorce. Yet, aside from this, you should take steps to protect your emotional and physical health and that of your children when dealing with an uncooperative spouse.

Self-care strategies

Mental Health America recommends a few self-care strategies that can help you cope while going through a divorce:

  • Take the pressure off yourself: Recognize that it is okay not to function at full capacity during this period. Admitting you are not a superman or superwoman can help you feel more content with all you can still accomplish.
  • Do positive activities: Involve your children in family traditions and create new activities that can bring you closer as a family.
  • Maintain routines: This is important for both adults and children. Keeping daily and weekly routines as structured as possible can create a continued sense of normality.

Support groups

Dealing with an uncooperative spouse is far from uncommon. Research and join local or online support groups that can provide the encouragement you need so you do not have to go through this alone.


During divorce therapy, you will learn techniques for anger management, communication, and managing the emotional stress of divorcing. Additionally, therapy can prepare you to co-parent successfully.

Explore Your Legal Options With Brown Family Law

When one spouse decides to be uncooperative, the whole divorce process can seem overwhelming. That is why you need an advocate on your side to do the heavy lifting for you. The dedicated divorce lawyers at Brown Family Law are ready to use all the legal resources at our firm’s disposal to defend your interests and help your divorce case proceed as smoothly as possible.

Brown Family Law divorce attorneys use a proven process to try to protect your money and maximize your time with your kids. We focus on using mediation and negotiation to avoid going to court wherever possible, enabling divorce proceedings to conclude more quickly.

Do not let your spouse unnecessarily delay your divorce. Instead, call Brown Family Law at 801-685-9999 to schedule a consultation. Alternatively, contact us online, and we will call you back to schedule your first appointment. 

Protect Your Money And Your Family

We remove fear associated with divorce, protect your money & maximize time with your kids!

We're here to help. Let's determine your best options.

Call Us 24//7 at 801-685-9999 to Speak with a Live Representative

Utah Divorce FAQs
Top 100 Divorce Blog
What Clients Are Saying…
Brown Family Law
Based on 803 reviews
Overall from start to finish the best experience to have dealing with a time that is difficult.Andrew Christensen is very professional and out going to make this situation the best it could be and worked hard to make sure the divorce was fair for me.Over all, this firm really cares and treats you as a family or friend and just not a client, down to Marco Brown taking time to see how I was doing and offer to help in any way possible during my divorce while I was there for my first initial meeting.I would highly recommend anyone that has to go through a divorce to really reach out to the Brown Family Law firm and see for your self the experience I was able to receive from a top notch law firm.
Response from the owner: Devin, thank you for the kind words. Andrew appreciated the opportunity to help you with your situation.
Sophie was very helpful and explains the process and fees. Thank you!
Response from the owner: Corey, thank you for the kind words. Glad we could help.
My attorney Amy Pomeroy and assistant Melanie and Dani are awesome! It’s an easy case but due to the opposite party was failed to respond, the process went much longer than we expect. During the process Amy gets the necessary job done as quick as she can. The assistants made the most documentation jobs done in a reasonable time. I will get phone call or message to communicate for the status, what’s the next step, what should I expect. In the end, it’s a huge win. So I definitely recommend Brown Family Law. They are professional and handle the case very well.
Response from the owner: Yue, thank you for the kind words. Glad Amy was able to help you so well.
Dani always kept me updated and has great communication skills.
Response from the owner: Thank you, Sofia.
Dani was extremely helpful and always responsive.
Response from the owner: Glad Dani did well for you.
My experience with Brown Family Law is a positive one. I highly recommend them. This firm has very good communication with their clients. Attorney Paul Waldron represents me and I’m very happy with the experience. My questions and concerns are always answered quickly and respectfully. I’m grateful to have Mr. Waldron and Brown Family Law in my corner during this difficult time for my family.
Response from the owner: Jodie, glad we were able to communicate with you so effectively and quickly. Thank you for your kind words.
I recently used Clay in a divorce case and could not have been happier. He was efficient, knowledgeable, and made me feel like I was his only client. The process was easy and he was always there to reassure me or help me with decisions. I would highly recommend Brown Family Law.
Response from the owner: Thank you, Mendi.
Dani excelled as a paralegal, providing crucial support with exceptional skills!
Response from the owner: Glad Dani did such a good job for you.
Thank you So much
Response from the owner: You're welcome. Thank you for choosing us to help you.
I highly recommend Nathaniel and his team. They listened to me, navigated me, educated me, and always called when they said they would. Going through a divorce was very hard but they helped me get through it and showed compassion the whole time.
Response from the owner: Amy, thank you for your recommendation, and glad we could help you through your divorce.