If I’ve been separated for 17 years and have no idea where my wife lives, can I get remarried?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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If I’ve been separated for 17 years and have no idea where my wife lives, can I get remarried?

We were married 7 years; separated for 17 years. No kids. Equally agreed we need to end the marriage.

She moved away and I have no idea where she is. Can I get remarried?

Asked on May 12, 2017 under Family Law, Massachusetts


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

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

You caanot be legally married to 2 different people at the same time. accordingly, you will first have to get a divorce from your wife before you can enter into another valid marriage. Since you wife is hard to find, there is something known as "service by publication", which is used these very situations. The fact is that in any legal proceeding, action cannot be taken against a person without first giving them notice of the proceedings. This gives them the chance to appear and explain their side. This applies when filing for a divorce, so even if a spouse can't be located they still must be notified in some way of the action before it can proceed. This is accomplished via something known as "service by publication". It typically works as follows: the "Petitioner" (i.e. the filing spouse) must make a good faith effort to find the "respondent" (the non-filing spouse). The petitioner will have to present proof to the court that they made a diligent effort to locate the respondent. Once they have done so, they will be allowed to serve the absent spouse by publishing notice notice of the divorce in a newspaper (as opposed to the usual method of personal service). The court will instruct as to which paper should be used. As a general rule, the respondent has about 30-60 days to file a reply. If they fail to do so within the time specified, then the petitioner can file a request to enter a "divorce by default" (although the respondent is given a certain time in which they can file an appeal). At this point, you may want to consult directly with a divorce attorney in your area; they can best further advise you.

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 AttorneyPages.com 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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