Stopping a divorce once you’ve already filed: Can it be done?

Family Law - Post-Nuptial Agreement

Going to court to end a marriage is a drastic, life-changing decision that in a perfect world would come after significant deliberation and made with absolute certainty. But life is messy, and what may seem like the right decision in the moment may quickly bring second thoughts.

If you find yourself in a situation in which you’ve already filed for divorce but now you realize it was not the right decision for you, it’s very important to talk to a good divorce lawyer who may be able to help you stop the process after it has started.

So why would someone want to stop a divorce proceeding after surely thinking long and hard about it before filing? There are many reasons.

For example, maybe a divorcing couple ends up working out the differences that were causing problems in the marriage, either through mediation before a neutral third party who can help achieve a resolution, or on their own.

Or maybe they’ve decided after filing that the marriage can still be saved and they want to attempt counseling. Perhaps they’ve decided to stay together for the sake of their children, putting off a final decision about the marriage until the kids have reached a certain age at which they’re better equipped to handle that type of disruption. Or maybe they decide that the financial risk of the divorce outweighs the level of unhappiness in the marriage.

Whatever the reason for wanting to halt the divorce, the sooner a couple acts, the easier it usually is to accomplish. Steps may vary from state to state, but in general you first need to locate and complete the proper forms.

Many states have a section on their website for forms of all types that you search by subject, or they might have a page for the family court, where you can locate the appropriate forms. If you have already filed but your spouse has not yet responded, in a lot of states you may be able to file for a “voluntary dismissal,” undoing your petition and ending the process.

But if your spouse has already filed a response, in some states your spouse will have to agree to dismissal to stop the process.

Once you’ve completed the form — which you really should do with the help of an experienced attorney — you would need to file with the clerk at the divorce court. At that point, depending on where you live, there may be a proceeding at which a judge hears from both sides and weighs such factors as whether both parties agree to the divorce, whether they’re doing so free of coercion, and whether doing so would be fair to both parties. And if your spouse does want to move forward with the divorce, the court is unlikely to force them to stay in the marriage.

However, it’s important to reiterate that these forms can be technical and complicated and have specific rules regarding how they’re prepared and processed. So this is something you absolutely should be doing with the help of an attorney to avoid mistakes that could compromise the result.

It also gets more complicated if you change your mind after the court has granted the divorce. Whether you can undo it at this point depends on where you live and how much time has passed. Some states have a mandatory waiting period between the divorce judgment and when it becomes final. During this time, parties have an option to change their minds.

Still, even in those cases, it’s critical to discuss with an attorney the legal implications of canceling a divorce. For example, any temporary child support orders that were in place while you were separated will likely be void, as will any temporary property division agreements or spousal support orders. Talk to a lawyer where you live to learn more.

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