How canyou get a divorce if you don’t know where your spouselives?

UPDATED: Jul 28, 2011

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How canyou get a divorce if you don’t know where your spouselives?

Asked on July 28, 2011 Kentucky


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

In a situation such as this there is a legal remedy known as "divorce by publication". In a legal proceeding the concept of "notice" is crucial. Legal action should not be taken against someone without giving them opportunity to appear and explain their side of things (in this case, to answer the complaint of divorce). Consequently, even if a spouse can't be located they still must be notified of the divorce action before it can proceed. This is what a "divorce by publication" accomplishes.

Briefly this is the way it typically works. You as the filing spouse (i.e. Petitioner) must make a good faith effort to find your missing spouse (i.e. Respondent).  You will have to present proof to a court that you made every effort to locate them. To prove this you will have to show the court that you checked with family/friends, voting records, the phone book, DMV, and any other source that would likely lead to uncovering their current whereabouts.  Once you have demonstrated to the the court's satisfaction that you have made a diligent search, you will be allowed to serve your spouse by publishing notice of your divorce in a newspaper (as opposed to the more usual method of personal service).  The court will instruct you as to which paper should be used (typically one in the area of your spouse's last known address).  

Generally, in most states, the Respondent has 30-60 days to file a reply after the first day of publication. If they fail to respond within that time, the Petitioner then files a request to enter a default dissolution of marriage. It is generally granted upon the terms requested by the Petitioner (although the Respondent is given a certain time limit in which they can appeal).

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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