Why Won’t Your Spouse Settle The Divorce?

Posted: 10 October, 2023

This should be an easy divorce. There is nothing to fight over, at least from your viewpoint. Split the bank accounts as well as the pensions. You’ll take the Visa credit card and he can take the AMEX. You take your car, he keeps his. You will sell the house and split the equity. The kids can stay with you four days one week and three the next week. This divorce should be simple. So why won’t your spouse sign the divorce papers?

There are only two ways to get a divorce. Either both spouses agree on the terms and settle, or have the issues decided by a judge. If you agree to the terms, the divorce can be settled by filing a stipulated divorce decree with the court. We call these a Joint Petition.

If the terms can’t be agreed on, then a judge is going to listen to evidence from both sides and make a final decision. The judge process takes longer and costs more.  Will you really need to go through all this to get a divorce?  Why won’t your spouse just sign the papers?

There are thousands of reasons your spouse won’t settle. These are the main situations we come across.

They Don’t Have Enough Information

Your spouse may not know what you are offering is fair. Maybe they haven’t read about Nevada child support calculations, or they don’t understand community property is typically divided in half. Perhaps they think you are hiding something.

For example, we had a client who would not settle because she felt her husband was hiding money.    This could be true. If it was, the court would award our client half (if not more) of the hidden money.  We requested copies of all bank accounts. We reviewed the statements with detail. Nothing. The money was all accounted for. He wasn’t hiding anything. After seeing there wasn’t any hidden money, she finally agreed to the divorce. Sometimes your spouse needs a little more information to accept the offer on the table.

Emotionally, They Can’t Let Go

Sometimes the other spouse can’t emotionally pull the trigger.  One time we had an opposing spouse who wouldn’t settle because he was still hoping to win back his wife. He didn’t want the divorce so he ignored his attorney’s phone calls and offers to settle. He was hoping to reconcile with his spouse. In his mind, if he prolonged the case he still had a chance to change her mind and fix the marriage. Eight months into the divorce, he finally realized she wasn’t coming back. We settled right before the trial started.

They Are Looking for Revenge

A common situation we encounter is where one spouse works and the other stays at home to the take care of the children. Traditionally this is the wife, but not always anymore. The husband always made the money. She gave up her career. She was fine with this arrangement when she thought they would spend their lives together. Now, with a looming divorce, she’s worried about paying the bills and angry about all those years of not building her career. She becomes scared and wants revenge for wasting her life on him. The revenge usually comes in the shape of wanting more than half of the assets and more than fifty percent of his income in alimony.

Courts will rarely award more than half the assets or this much spousal support. Although we don’t have a spousal support formula in Nevada, in our experience the range is not fifty percent. The judges look at factors like years married, relative incomes of the spouses, lifestyle during the marriage, ability to pay spousal support, and need for spousal support. Even with these factors, the number is almost never higher than thirty percent of his gross income, which may include child support.

This is not a percentage the wife wants to hear. She gave up her career for thirty percent. How can she survive on thirty percent?

The cure for this situation is beyond hearing it from the lawyers. The wife is going to need to hear this from a judge. Once the judge explains the typical range, she may be able to move forward with a settlement.

They Want the Tell Their Story

We can’t make your spouse settle.  Even when it is completely obvious they should.  We have had cases where the couple have been physically separated for years. They have discussed the divorce and agreed it would be best. They have divided their bank accounts, credit cards, and established a custody schedule with the children. The wife drafted the joint petition paperwork and the husband wouldn’t sign them.

Why? He was upset over an affair she had a few years back, and wanted the judge to hear the case. He didn’t want to stay married, he just wanted the judge to hear the story and know why they were divorcing. Judges don’t care about affairs. Cheating doesn’t affect a divorce. That didn’t matter to him.  He wanted to be heard. He wanted to tell his story. $10,000 in attorney fees later, he was heard, and divorced.

How to Settle Your Divorce

So how do you get your spouse to reason with you logically and rationally? How do you avoid dealing with a judge, extra attorney fees, and the headache of a lawsuit? We’ve laid down a few different settling tips and tricks that may come in handy.

Know Your Rights

You want primary physical custody of the children. Do you know what the laws say, or what a judge might say? Find out. No sense going to battle over primary custody when all it means is one day extra every week.

Community property is typically divided in half, while separate property is not. Is your inheritance community property or separate property? Find out. Search Google, read articles, and then go meet with a divorce attorney.  It is hard to settle without knowing what you have rights to.

Know Your Needs

Now that you know your rights, what do you need? Everyday, couples agree to more or less than the standard child support calculations. The law may say one number and the couple come to agreement on another. Why? Because they knew what each other needed, or could afford. You need to find out what you need. Do a budget and see how much you need to live on.

Know Your Limits

Establish a realistic bottom line and stick to it. You did a budget and know this is how much you need and that he can afford it. While you are willing to be fair and reasonable, you know your bottom line.     Talk with your lawyer and discuss the legal issues and attorney costs of fighting for more than this bottom line. If you spouse can’t agree to it, then you have already calculated your chances of winning and how much it will cost to win.

Be Flexible

You’re not here to sport a “take-no-prisoners” attitude. It’s important to know what you want, but also to be flexible. There are many different ways to get what you want. Typically, your lawyer can help you get there. It just requires a little flexibility. For example, maybe selling the house will create cash for both of you. But you don’t want to move the kids to a new school. Is refinancing possible?  Could you look for a temporary rental in the same school district? Be flexible, and look for options.

Lose the Emotions

One of the most important tips for settling is to check your emotions at the door. Settling a divorce case is not always logical. It is one part logical and three parts emotional. Logic and fairness can have a troublesome time shining through. What you think would make a completely rational settlement, while looking through your logical glasses, doesn’t make sense to someone looking through emotional glasses.

Try a Stipulated Divorce

A stipulated divorce is a method some divorce attorneys use to get spouse to agree to a divorce.  The divorce lawyer files a the divorce, serves your spouse with the divorce papers and attaches a settlement letter.   The letter outlines specific terms for the divorce.  Now the other spouse has to do something and they only have two choices.  They can spend thousands of dollars hiring a divorce attorney to respond, or they can reach out to their spouse’s divorce attorney to discuss the terms outlined in the letter.   This method works when there really isn’t anything to argue over.

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

A final thought is to remember to be rational about the situation. Try and realize that a divorce is not an end to your story. It’s a beginning to a new story. You’ve done your homework and prepared for worst case scenarios. All you do now is move forward and see how things work out. They will work out, they always do.