One spouse, or both spouses, may seek a court order of divorce by filing what is known as a “petition for divorce.” Grounds for divorce include “fault” grounds (i.e., grounds under which one party alleges that the marriage should be terminated because the other party did something wrong, such as abandonment or adultery), as well as “no-fault” grounds.
In a so-called “no-fault” divorce proceeding, a court may grant a divorce request without either party having to prove that the other party engaged in wrongdoing.
Regardless of what type of divorce proceeding is requested, one party (or both) may change their mind and seek to terminate the divorce proceedings and remain married. Courts will grant a request to end a divorce proceeding under certain circumstances.
Why Might a Party Wish to End a Divorce Proceeding?
One or both parties may wish to end a divorce proceeding. One party or both may seek to reconcile to avoid the costs of a protracted proceeding or to continue the existing child custody or child support arrangement without interference from a judge.
When Must a Party Request That a Divorce Proceeding Be Canceled?
Generally, there is no fixed date by which a party must request that divorce proceedings be canceled or terminated. A judge will entertain a request to end the proceedings at any time before final judgment, but see the information below about making the request late in the game.
What Do You Need to Do to End a Divorce Proceeding?
If you decide you want to terminate your divorce proceedings, there are steps to take to have the case removed from the court docket. Which steps are necessary will depend a lot on the timing of your request – for example, whether you make it before or after your spouse has responded to the divorce petition.
If you want to withdraw the divorce petition before your spouse has filed an answer, you need to do nothing more than file a request for a voluntary dismissal. Ending the divorce at this point does not require a judge’s approval or a hearing. Submitting the request on the proper court form is basically all that’s required. It is a good idea to request that the case be closed “without prejudice.” That means that should you change your mind and decide to get divorced, you can pick up where you left off and will not have to file a new case (this saves money on filing fees).
If your spouse has already filed an answer to the divorce petition, but you both want it to end, you can still ask for voluntary dismissal, but in this situation, you’ll need your spouse’s written agreement. You must sign a “stipulation of dismissal” and file that document with the court.
If your spouse does not agree with the proposed dismissal, then the judge may call for a hearing with oral argument at which both sides are permitted to explain why the request to terminate the divorce proceedings should or should not be granted. The court will thoroughly evaluate the arguments and then will make a decision. If the court finds no legitimate reason to deny the request to dismiss, it will approve it. If your application for dismissal comes early enough in the divorce process, your request will likely be granted.
If you request to withdraw later in the proceedings, the court will be less inclined to grant it. Technically, you may file the notice before the court is ready to enter final judgment, but the closer to the final judgment, the more scrutiny the court will give to the request for dismissal if your spouse objects to it.
You should also be aware that if your spouse filed a counterclaim (a counterclaim allows the responding party to ask the court to resolve issues that the petitioning party didn’t include in the complaint), dismissing your divorce petition will not result in dismissal of the counterclaim. Only your spouse can dismiss a counterclaim. If they do not do so, the case on the counterclaim will move forward.
Why Might the Judge Deny a Request to Dismiss the Case?
Because of the complexity involved in a contested divorce, completing the case can frequently take a year or more. And financial expenditures will probably be significant. There will be attorney’s fees, court costs, and expenses relating to expert witnesses (accountants, appraisers, and so on). Although you can ask a judge to dismiss your case when the court enters the final judgment, if the divorce is well underway, the court may be less inclined to grant it. After the money, time, and emotional capital your spouse has spent on the divorce, a judge may find it unfair to allow you to stop the proceedings.
A judge might apply extra scrutiny out of concern that you are doing this to obtain some tactical advantage (for example, waiting until your spouse’s pension becomes vested or a loan made by your spouse is repaid. These would result in a greater payout to you). If the court determines that you did not sincerely intend to terminate the proceedings but only made the request to delay the divorce, then the court may deny the request.
In addition, a judge may deny an attempt to dismiss divorce proceedings at any time if the spouse credibly alleges that the party filing the request to dismiss is coercing them to join in the request for dismissal.
Another scenario that could lead a court to deny a dismissal request—no matter what stage of the proceedings the divorce is in—would be where there are allegations of domestic violence, child abuse, or child neglect. If the judge believes dismissing the case and keeping the couple together might leave a child or spouse open to harm, the judge can deny the application. This keeps the matter in the court’s jurisdiction and enables the court to take the steps necessary to protect the vulnerable spouse or child.
If the court is unsure, it can withhold a decision on the request for dismissal until social services professionals investigate to assess any potential for harm. If there has been violence or threats of violence, then even if the responding spouse consents to the dismissal, social services personnel would seek to determine whether the consent is voluntary and not the result of coercion. The judge can issue protective orders or other relief needed to protect the spouse or child by denying the attempt to dismiss the divorce.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Stopping a Divorce After It Has Been Filed?
If you need assistance in stopping divorce proceedings that you are in, it would be a good idea to hire a divorce lawyer for assistance. A divorce lawyer can explain what options you have concerning such termination and what difficulties you may encounter. The lawyer can prepare and file the papers needed to request a dismissal and can represent you in court in your effort to have a divorce proceeding stopped.
A lawyer is also very useful if you need to persuade your spouse to agree to the dismissal because the lawyer can negotiate on your behalf without the emotional issues that might come up if you negotiate on your own.