Getting divorced can be a straightforward affair where both sides agree on almost every detail. Or it can become complex and contentious as you and your soon-to-be-ex argue about every last thing. It’s a hard enough process when both sides are in regular communication — even if that occurs through third parties.
What happens if you can’t find your spouse?
It’s problematic enough to begin with, but divorcing someone you can’t locate is something else entirely.
Perhaps they moved out of state, or maybe they just dropped off of your radar completely. Whatever the reason for their absence, the question of how to proceed remains.
While this makes it more complicated than it needs to be, the good news is you can still divorce your spouse even if you can’t find them. It’s just a bit thornier and more labor intensive than usual.
Get The Ball Rolling
First things first, you need to file for divorce and get the ball rolling. This is the initial step no matter the situation. File the forms, kick things off, and go from there. It’s the next phase where things get dicey if you can’t find your spouse.
- FL-100 – This is the form to begin the divorce or legal separation process. As the filing party, you will list all the pertinent information related to your marriage, including children, dates, and property.
Do Your Due Diligence
As you probably surmised, if you can’t find your spouse, serving divorce papers will be difficult. If you don’t know where she is, tracking her down may prove almost impossible, especially if she doesn’t want to be found.
That said, in order to finish your divorce, you must do your due diligence and put in the leg work to try to find them. And you’ll need to show your work, so make sure to document everything along the way.
Good starting places are her last known residence or her last known employer. Her family members may also be able to offer some insight. Whether or not you’re still in contact with them varies from case to case, but if you have their information, or at least their names, that’s a beginning.
Online tools are often an invaluable resource.
- Sometimes a quick Google search may turn up clues.
- You can also check phone listings in the last area you know she lived.
- Check criminal databases, public court records, or even the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
- You also have the Social Security Death Index,
- military records,
- and the DMV at your disposal.
These are just a few ideas to get you started; there are many other options.
Working with a divorce lawyer can also come in handy. Experienced professionals likely have their own set of tools and trade secrets to aid your search. Enlisting the services of a private investigator is another option.
This sounds expensive, but often times they have reasonable rates for this kind of thing. And a small investment now may benefit you down the road.
If it’s been years since you’ve heard from your spouse, but you’re planning to pursue a divorce, start the search early. Begin looking before you even file the paperwork, it may help speed things up.
Service By Publication
Once you’ve scoured the Earth for your spouse, documented every action you took and compiled enough evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that your search was exhaustive, it’s time to move forward. Unless you found your spouse. Then your divorce can proceed as normal. But we’re going to assume that didn’t happen.
If you still can’t find your spouse, the next step is to go back to court and file a “Motion to Serve by Publication.” This is the last task you need to complete to show that you put in a good faith effort.
In these cases, a public notice will need to be published in an acceptable source. Most often this is a newspaper or other credible news outlet in the area where your spouse most likely lives.
As an alternative, you can also serve by posting. This is when the summons is put on display in an area of the courthouse where it’s visible to the public. The idea is to make it as accessible to your spouse as possible.
In order to serve by posting or publication, the court needs to approve the measure. Which is why it’s vital to record your actions and prove you can’t find your spouse through any other means. For the vast majority of divorce cases, this strategy doesn’t yield significant results, but it’s another hoop to jump through.
Motion For Default
So now you’ve gone through the rigmarole, put in the effort, and there’s still no sign of your spouse. If she doesn’t show after posting or publication, the good news is: it’s time to move on.
Next up is to file a “Motion for Default.”
This basically says that you did everything you could and that you served your spouse but she didn’t respond. At this point, you’ve exhausted every reasonable option with no results. By failing to react in time, she is in default, and this motion requests a judgment in your favor.
In most cases, this means you, the filing party, will get everything asked for in the initial petition for divorce. If you’ve been apart for so long already, there may not be much to split up, but even without your spouse’s direct participation, the court can now divide any marital property, rule on child custody, and offer other declarations.