Homologue synapsis is required for meiotic chromosome segregation, but how synapsis is initiated between chromosomes is poorly understood. In Caenorhabditis elegans, synapsis and a checkpoint that monitors synapsis depend on pairing centers (PCs), cis-acting loci that interact with nuclear envelope proteins, such as SUN-1, to access cytoplasmic microtubules. Here, we report that spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC) components MAD-1, MAD-2, and BUB-3 are required to negatively regulate synapsis and promote the synapsis checkpoint response. Both of these roles are independent of a conserved component of the anaphase-promoting complex, indicating a unique role for these proteins in meiotic prophase. MAD-1 and MAD-2 localize to the periphery of meiotic nuclei and interact with SUN-1, suggesting a role at PCs. Consistent with this idea, MAD-1 and BUB-3 require full PC function to inhibit synapsis. We propose that SAC proteins monitor the stability of pairing, or tension, between homologues to regulate synapsis and elicit a checkpoint response.