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What can I do if my spouse ignores the divorce petition?

Article updated May 2023

What can I do if my spouse ignores the divorce petition?

If you find yourself in the situation where the Court has issued your divorce petition, but your spouse refuses to respond, what are your legal options? 

There are a number of options open to people if their spouse does not return the Acknowledgment of Service to the Court.

Divorce lawyer, Phoebe Hill from the Stowe Family Law office in London joins us on the blog to answer the question, what can I do if my spouse ignores the divorce petition?

Reaching the decision to divorce is a long and often painful process so someone refusing to acknowledge the petition can be extremely frustrating. 

Issuing a divorce petition

On the application of a divorce petition, the Court sends out a copy of the petition and an Acknowledgment of Service form to the respondent. They are given 7 days to complete this and return to the Court. 

The Acknowledgment of Service form confirms to the Court that the respondent has received the petition.

What can I do if my spouse doesn’t respond to divorce papers?

If your spouse fails to respond, as a first option, contact your spouse and inform them that the Acknowledgment of Service needs to be returned to the Court within 7 days and ask them to now do so. 

It may be that there is a logical explanation for why they have not completed the Acknowledgment of Service in the time frame, such as they forgot, are seeking legal advice or perhaps have already provided their form to the Court without providing you with a copy.  

If, however, they are still ignoring you or refusing to complete the Acknowledgment of Service you have different options available to you depending on the basis of your divorce petition.   

Personal service by court bailiff or process server  

Personal Service is an option, if your spouse has not returned their Acknowledgment of Service to the Court within 14 days and you have a reasonable belief that they are still living at the address set out in the petition.

This can be arranged by a Court Bailiff (if you do not have legal representation) or a Process Server (if you have a solicitor acting for you) to physically serve the documents on your spouse at their address or an alternative address, like their work address.

The server can make several attempts, if necessary, to serve your spouse with the divorce papers.

Once your spouse has been served, the process server or court bailiff will file a certificate of service to confirm their successful service.

If the Court is satisfied that your spouse has been correctly served and is aware of the proceedings, it is then possible to go on to the next stage and apply for the Conditional Order without requiring your spouse to complete their Acknowledgment of Service.

Application for deemed service 

If you have correspondence or evidence that your spouse did receive the issued petition in the post, you can make an application for “deemed service”. 

You will need to provide a detailed account of any conversations you have had with your spouse and provide as much evidence as possible with your application (for example, emails and text messages) to satisfy the Court that your spouse has received and is aware of the divorce proceedings.

Once the Court has approved your application, you can proceed to apply for the Conditional Order without waiting for the respondent to complete the Acknowledgment of Service

If options 1 and 2 fail, you could also consider ‘Substituted/Alternative Service’ where you request permission from the Court to notify your spouse of the divorce proceedings using a different method. For example, this could include serving it by email, via an employer or relative.

Application to dispense with service  

In exceptional cases, the Court may allow you to dispense with service however, this can only be when it is not possible to serve the divorce petition at all, for example, you are unable to locate your spouse.

In this application, you need to evidence your extensive efforts to try and locate your spouse, including all the enquiries you have made. This may include speaking to friends, family, their employer etc. The Court will only make this application in limited circumstances when all other options have been exhausted.  

Please note that you may be able to seek a cost order against your spouse for any additional fees you have incurred as a result of having to make any of the above applications.

Get in touch 

If you would like any advice on what you can do if your spouse ignores the divorce petition please do contact our Client Care Team to our specialist divorce lawyers.

I advise on a diverse range of complex family law matters arising from the breakdown of a relationship and have acted in cases at all levels up to the High Court. I am known for my negotiation skills to reach client-focused settlements in a collaborative way.

Contact us

As the UK's largest family law firm we understand that every case is personal.


  1. Gabriela Remington says:

    My husband has had an affair for 5 years when he worked in Germany. I was in England looking after the kids who are now over 18. He finished the affair and I took him back. He lied and carried on with the German women behind my back. Now wants a divorce and I cannot face losing my home with a small mortgage. What happens if I don’t go ahead with the divorce papers that are arriving this week.

    • Sally Shakespeare says:

      Hi. Thank you for your query which I have passed on to our Client Care Team who will be in touch. Kind regards

  2. Sharron says:

    What happens if PETITIONER has not responded …. but Respondant has. Hearing via Zoom, but doubt that petitioner has been contacted has possibly moved house that Respondant is unaware of. Its 5 year separation.


    • Sally Shakespeare says:

      Hi. Thanks for your query which I’ve passed to our Client Team to respond. Kind regards

  3. Lisa says:

    Hi i petitioned for divorce 6buears ago. My ex ignored it completely. We got to the start of the second stage.
    When I filed it had been 2 years now its been 6.
    We’ve both since changed address and id like a child arrangement order added on. How do I go about changing these and getting the divorce processed please

    • Sally Shakespeare says:

      Hi. Thanks for your question which I have passed to our Client Care team to advise. Best wishes

  4. Nikolay Yakov says:

    Hi, When I filled D8 for service divorce when responder ignores the documents when I have to fill finances and what is the form?

    Nikolay Yakov

  5. Singh says:

    Thanks for the information.

  6. Richard says:

    I’ve been separated 2 years with an 19 year old son we agreed in a separation agreement asset split 50/50 each receiving 230k already divided. Wife’s pension is CVET of 220k plus which she agreed at separation agreement to divide 50/50. We’ve been married 12 years and lived with shared finances for 20 years since 2001. We split the assets equally I pay for my son £450 pm now she is refusing delaying divorce because she will need to give me a share of her public sector pension stating I didn’t make provision for my pension ( I didn’t start work until 33 as I had a server RTA and received 145k in pain and suffering and salary multiplier which bought our first property together). The only financial deifying up is pension as I was adverse to pensions as my father lost all his in Equitable life scandal .
    There was financial abuse in the marriage with my wife refusing access to joint bank accounts and not letting myself investe in buy to let for my retirement.

  7. Terence says:

    my girlfeinds husband who shes been seperated from for over 10 years refuses to sign the papers demanding to see his daughter who has no interest in seeing him as he is violent and unstable. Me and my girlfriend would like to get engaged what can we do to force him to sign the divorce papers.

    • Kate Nestor says:

      Hi – we have passed your details to our Client Care Team, who will be in touch. Best wishes,

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