Ghosted: Dealing with a Non-Responsive Ex During Divorce

October 24, 2022
Rosemary Bocska

Article written by Rosemary Bocska

With Halloween right around the corner, people are getting in the spooky spirit. But while your kid dressing up as a ghost and shouting "Boo" may be a laugh, there is nothing funny about being ghosted by your Ex during the divorce process.

For those who don't know, "ghosting" refers to a sudden halt in communication. Texts go unread. Calls go to voicemail. You can understand that nobody wants to be on the other end of this poor treatment. But when it comes to divorce, being ghosted by your Ex can cause more than hurt feelings.


Ghosting in Divorce:

Regardless of whether you and your Ex are splitting up amicably, communication is a key part of the divorce process. You both need to cooperate around making new living arrangements and preserving marital assets. You need to share financial and other information freely to untangle your finances fairly. Most importantly, you need to communicate daily on issues relating to your children, if any.

If your Ex suddenly ghosts you and stops cooperating, rest assured this need not stall your separation process or prevent you from getting divorced. It simply means you may need to take a different path. With a little extra help from your lawyer and the court, you will be able to keep things moving.

Get a Lawyer’s Help:

First things first:  Enlist the help of your Family Lawyer as soon as possible. They can send a demand letter to your Ex (if self-represented), or better yet, to your Ex’s lawyer. It will include a deadline within, by which your Ex must respond. This formalizes your requests, and documents your attempts at contact. It also creates a “paper trail” in case you need to go to court. 

If things progress to the point where your Ex won't engage at all, your lawyer may need to file appropriate court documents to bring a Motion, or to take other steps in your divorce proceeding. If this is the case, your Ex is entitled to notice. They must be personally served with the court documents – which can be done through a hired process server. If your Ex is being evasive, there are alternatives to personal service that the law deems sufficient. This includes sending by regular mail in certain circumstances.


What About Getting Papers Signed?

You and your Ex may be in the process of negotiating your separation agreement, when suddenly things go silent. Or you may need some paperwork signed, and your Ex stops responding. 

So, how do you force your Ex to sign?

You can’t.  Any sort of coercion or threat is unwise. The presence of duress may call the validity and enforceability of the signed document into question.

Again, your only option may be to contact your lawyer and start formal legal proceedings of your own accord. This will put various legal processes in motion, and will compel your Ex to become responsive or else risk losing some legal rights.

Getting a Divorce:

It’s important to emphasize:  Your Ex ghosting you will not prevent you from getting divorced. Since Canadian law states that you don't need your Ex's consent or participation, you can push matters along yourself. Instead, you only need to show there has been a “breakdown of the marriage,” which can be proven to the court without your Ex’s cooperation, with the right evidence.  

In an uncontested divorce, you don’t need your Ex’s signature on the application. All you need is to be able to show that you served them with the paperwork giving notice of your divorce application. Even in a contested divorce, you can still get the court’s order if your Ex refuses to participate and has not opposed it within the legislated deadlines for taking various formal steps.

Finally, if you already have a court order in place, and your Ex’s extended ghosting means that they are not in compliance with one of its terms, you might be able to get an order declaring them in contempt.  This could result in your Ex being fined, excluded from participating further in the divorce process, or even being sent to jail in some circumstances. This is usually a measure of last resort, but may be part of your arsenal.


Best Practices:

Your Ex’s silence will make things challenging. This is further complicated if you have children who need to be attended to.  Some tips:

  • Document your attempts to communicate. This can include date-stamped texts and emails, or screenshots. You may need to prove to the court that you made many attempts at contact that your Ex wholly ignored.
  • Set deadlines. If appropriate, set a firm written deadline within which your Ex must respond to whatever you write.
  • Stick to your agreement.  Keep fulfilling your end of any separation agreement or court order.
  • Keep it civil. Try to remain courteous in whatever communication you do still send. Just stick to the facts, be assertive, and set appropriate boundaries and expectations.
  • Don’t try the “side door. While being ghosted might tempt you to do a side-run around your Ex’s “wall of silence”, don’t post on social media, show up unannounced at your Ex’s new home, or enlist a friend’s help to pass along messages. This will only escalate matters, and could be considered by a judge at your divorce trial.

Being ghosted by anyone feels terrible.  And when it’s your Ex, you may feel particularly hurt and frustrated. But keep these tips in mind, and focus on the goal of moving your matter along – with or without your Ex’s cooperation.