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Divorce | Family

Can You Stop a Divorce if You Have Already Filed?

9 min read
Philip Ahn, Attorney

by Philip Ahn, Attorney

When it comes to matters of the heart, the courts allow couples to change their minds. No matter what type of divorce you or your spouse has filed, you can cancel the divorce process after it begins. You can also pause a divorce for practical reasons.

A family law court can approve a request to halt divorce proceedings as long as the proper steps are taken. In some cases, one or both spouses will decide to stop the proceedings before a final court ruling is made. However, note that only the spouse who filed for divorce can ask to withdraw their divorce petition.A fast consultation with a local divorce lawyer is available.

If you have already begun the divorce process and are having second thoughts, a lawyer can help you postpone matters or drop the case with the option to refile later on. The best way to stop a divorce proceeding – once you’re sure this is what you want to do – is to let the court know.

Reasons to Stop Divorce Proceedings

In some cases, couples reconcile their differences on their own, and in other cases, they reconcile during facilitated mediation sessions. You and your spouse may choose to dismiss a divorce proceeding for many reasons, such as:

  • Resolving the dispute(s) that led to filing for divorce
  • Choosing to work on your marriage via counseling 
  • Deciding to stay together until your children reach a certain age
  • Avoiding afford the financial risks that come with divorce
  • Staying legally married to preserve access to healthcare, 401(k)s, and other benefits
  • Prioritizing other major life changes
  • Preferring the other spouse begins the proceeding, or collaborating with your spouse on an uncontested divorce

Regardless of your reasons for canceling your divorce proceedings, it can be done. The sooner you begin the process, the easier it will be to stop it.

Steps to Withdraw a Divorce Petition

While the steps to stop a divorce proceeding do have slight variations in each state, the general process for taking back a divorce application includes:

  1. Finding the right forms
  2. Filing the forms
  3. Giving the paperwork to your spouse
  4. Attending a hearing (if necessary) 

1. Find and Complete the Proper Forms

The first step to stop divorce proceedings is to learn what forms you need and where to get them. If you have filed for divorce, but your partner has yet to respond, you may be allowed to file a “voluntary dismissal”.

The court clerk may have a standardized form, or you may need to draft a document (a lawyer can help here). In Texas and Florida, the document you’ll need to create is called a motion to dismiss. In New York state, it’s a notice of dismissal.

If you wish to pause but not end the proceedings, you may instead file for a motion of abatement that freezes the progress of your divorce.

2. Submit Papers to the Court

You’ll need to file the correct forms with the court clerk’s office to make things official. Filing fees vary depending on the state where your divorce proceedings began. You or your attorney can apply for fee waivers if necessary.

3. Serve Your Spouse

If you are seeking to end the divorce proceedings, most states do require you to give, or “serve,” a copy of the request to your spouse after filing it with the clerk’s office. You will be required to provide the court with a proof of service showing that this was done correctly. Your spouse will have a specific amount of time to respond and object to the request, if they choose.

If your spouse disputes your request to terminate divorce proceedings, a judge may schedule a hearing before making a final decision, and may even decline to reverse the proceedings.

4. Attend the Hearing

Once you have filed to dismiss your divorce, you will be given a date to show up in court. You or your attorney must come to court for the request to be considered.

In many cases, you and your spouse (who is now the “respondent”) will be required to sign a stipulation of voluntary dismissal to officially stop the process. This confirms that you both agree to end the proceeding instead of going through with it, but it will not prevent either party from refiling for divorce in the future if they choose.

If your spouse has filed their response, then your request will not be automatically granted. During the hearing, a family court judge allows each party to argue their sides. In most cases, a judge will only accept a request to stop divorce proceedings under certain conditions, including:

  • Both parties are in agreement over next steps
  • One party is not coercing the other party to stop the proceedings
  • Terminating the divorce process is fair and equitable for both spouses 

If you change your mind after filing for divorce, but your spouse still wants to move forward, your case can still proceed. States are careful to ensure that they do not make someone stay in a marriage who does not want to be in one.

If a hearing has been scheduled, it is in your best interest to appear in court. If neither party attends a divorce hearing, but the court is unaware that the spouses want more time or wish to undo the process, then a judge may grant the divorce by accident.

Can You Stop a Divorce if You Are the Spouse Being Served?

No, you cannot stop divorce proceedings alone if you are the spouse being served. You and your wife or husband can stop proceedings together. It can be beneficial to pause divorce proceedings while you use mediation sessions to actively work on your disagreements. 

If you wish to stop the process, but your spouse is not sure, you can speak with them one-on-one and develop a plan of action together. It is important to remember that it only takes one person to proceed with a divorce, but it takes both to stop it.

However, a single spouse does have ways to try and halt the process. For example, you can file a response to the divorce petition and request that the court hold a hearing to discuss the issues. Additionally, you can try to negotiate a settlement agreement with your spouse outside of court.

Depending on how far into the divorce process you are and what paperwork you have already signed, it can be helpful to consult with a divorce lawyer or family lawyer before proceeding further. 

When is it Too Late to Stop a Divorce?

Technically, you and your spouse can agree not to go through with divorce at any time before a final judgment is made. You may still have to pay filing fees and other applicable court costs.

The longer you wait to stop proceedings, the more complicated it can get. This can be especially true if you have children, have already begun separating assets and debts, are selling properties, or making other irreversible changes. 

It’s vital to communicate your change of heart with your family law attorney as soon as possible. Your spouse and financial planner will also need to know. It is important to ensure that both parties have an equal stake in the benefits as well as drawbacks of stopping the process early. Otherwise, a judge may deny the request to stop the divorce. 

Additionally, a family court judge may deny the request to stop the divorce if it is found that one party is coercing the other to terminate the process or there are instances of abuse or neglect

How Long Does a Divorce Petition Stay Active? 

In general, a divorce petition does not have an official expiration date. If you go without taking any action on your case, the petition may never technically expire and can stay active, but not finalized, indefinitely. The legal system is designed to give couples multiple ways to resolve their issues instead of forcing them into a particular action.

It can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year to finalize a divorce. If a judge notices that there has been little to no movement on the case, they may schedule a conference call with you, your spouse, and your attorneys to discuss the status of the case. 

In many cases, if there has been no movement after a certain amount of time and neither party shows interest in moving forward, the case can be thrown out. Keep the court informed of your intentions and the status of your case if you wish to proceed with your divorce.

When Is Your Divorce Final? 

Your divorce will be officially finalized when a family court judge signs the divorce decree. While it will take a few days for the decree to be mailed to you or your attorney, it is technically finalized at the exact time it is signed.

The divorce process typically takes at least a few months to resolve. The more complicated the divorce, the longer you should expect for it to go before a judge is ready to finalize it.

Some states require couples to observe a legal separation of six months to a year before their divorce can be finalized. Check with your attorney to learn more about your state’s requirements. 

After your divorce is finalized, some states allow you to request a reversal of the judge’s decision, but it must be requested shortly after the final ruling. Courts want to give people the chance to move on. Only 6% of couples remarry each other after a divorce.

While divorce itself can’t be revisited, there are processes for requesting changes to agreements like child custody after a divorce is finalized.

Do You Need an Attorney to Help Stop Your Divorce?

If you decide to stop your divorce, you no longer need an attorney, right? That’s not necessarily true. A divorce lawyer can be helpful by:

  • Explaining the options available to you for stopping the divorce
  • Informing you of potential difficulties you can encounter
  • Representing you at hearings
  • Filing paperwork and motions correctly
  • Clearing the divorce from public records

Attorneys can put your divorce on hold, especially if you are the one initiating divorce. They’re knowledgeable about procedures, familiar with talking to the judge, and understand delay tactics beyond what you may see on paper or realize is possible.

If you are not completely sure about finalizing your divorce, it can be burdensome to pay the high fees – starting around $3,000 – that come with onboarding a divorce lawyer. Instead, using Unbundled Legal Help, you can tell your attorney what to work on (like specific forms to pause or stop a divorce) instead of having them take on your entire case. For services that start around $500 to $1,500, you’ll get a free consultation with a local divorce lawyer who provides unbundled services.

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