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Arnold Schwarzenegger Still Hasn't Signed Four Year Old Divorce Papers: Can He Do That?

How long does it take to sign divorce papers? If you are Arnold Schwarzenegger, four years... and counting.
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How long does it take to sign divorce papers? If you are Arnold Schwarzenegger, four years... and counting.

Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver, filed for divorce in 2011 after the shocking revelation that Schwarzenegger had fathered a child outside their marriage. According to a report from TMZ, the actor and former governor of California still hasn't signed the divorce papers.

TMZ's sources say that there are no remaining issues holding up the process, save a simple sign off by the former Governator.

Whatever his reasons for dragging his feet might be, I found my self wondering not "why would he do that?" but "can he do that?"

Since I am not a lawyer - although I played one in a not-even-good-enough-for-youtube comedy short once - I asked David Wilkinson of Wilkinson & Finkbeiner in Orange County and Steven Kampf of the Kampf Law Firm in San Diego.

First, can Arnold do that? Simply not sign?

"It depends. There are two types of divorce cases, uncontested and contested. If Shriver and the Terminator were trying to do an uncontested divorce case without any court action, then she would have to wait for him to sign a settlement agreement. There is nothing she could do to force him to agree or sign a divorce judgment. However, if she wants to apply some pressure to get him to sign, then there are certain things she could try." - David Wilkinson

What happens if - like Arnold - you don't sign your divorce papers?

"If another party doesn't respond to a divorce petition, the other party can seek a Default Judgment against them. If there is no response after 30 days, they can file a request to enter a default judgment. Once this is done, the court will usually set a court date for a default judgment prove up; that is a court hearing where the one party would go and prove everything they allege or request in their petition that was never responded to. This is the proper route to take in this situation.

Now, if the Governator did respond to the original petition (which is very likely or Maria would have already gotten a default judgment against him), then the best thing for her to do would be to address this at the Family Resolution Conference (aka Status Conference). The court automatically sets these FRCs about every six months. Basically the purpose of a FRC is to see the status of the case." - Steven Kampf

What would Maria's options be to get this divorce finalized?

"Assuming Arnold has any sort of lawyer working on his case, they would never let a default happen. Instead, she could propound discovery, start taking depositions, etc. This may prompt Arnold to take action to finish the case.

She could file an "At Issue Memorandum" with the court, requesting that the court set a Mandatory Settlement Conference or trial (this depends on what's been done in the case to date). Note, judges are under relatively strict "orders" to make sure cases get concluded in a timely fashion. There is nothing prohibiting the judge from hauling everyone into court and setting deadlines, etc.

Ultimately, there are a series of laws that allow the court to "fast track" a case, set discovery deadlines, etc. This is probably Maria's best course of action. They can mediate the case, hire a privately compensated judge (usually a retired judge) to handle the case (which will certainly speed things along), etc. They would both have to agree to this course of action, however." - David Wilkinson

Are there any real legal ramifications for Arnold or someone in a similar situation?

"If Arnold continues to drag his feet, Maria could tell the court that Arnold is failing to participate after filing his response to the petition. The court can then do a number of things to get him to participate, one being finding him in contempt of court (more on that here). She could also file a request for Order for sanctions on Arnold for various reasons if he is not complying with certain statutory timelines, etc." - Steven Kampf

Is this kind of thing common in divorce cases?

"Believe it or not, no this is not that common. A true default case rarely happens unless parties have zero assets and no kids. The latter case is even more rare, when a party responds to a petition or participates for a bit and then disappears. This is because the court has the power to punish someone for failing to participate (after their initial filing) by ordering sanctions, or finding someone in contempt for ailing to abide by court orders. They can also move the case along without the party participating." - Steven Kampf