How to Divorce Someone You Can’t Locate

A newspaper can sometimes be used to serve divorce papers.

How to divorce someone you can't locate is something that many people wonder about. They understand the idea that divorce papers need to be served on the other spouse and don't know what to do in a situation where they don't have a current address for the person they wish to divorce.

How to Divorce Someone You Can't Locate: Service by Publication

In a situation where, in spite of your best efforts, you have been unable to locate your spouse, you can still get a divorce. You will need to serve the petition for divorce and the summons by placing a notice to your spouse in the local newspaper. This method of service is known as service by publication.

Attempting to Locate Your Spouse

To serve your spouse in this manner, you will need to get a court order allowing you to do so. Before a judge will grant the order, you will need to demonstrate to the court that you have undertaken a thorough, yet unsuccessful, search to locate your spouse.

Depending on where you live, your search for your spouse may include the following strategies:

  • Searching phone directories in locations where your spouse may be living
  • Contacting your spouse's relatives to gather information
  • Making a request under the Freedom of Information Act to the US Postmaster for your spouse's forwarding address
  • Contacting trade unions or professional associations your spouse may belong to
  • Writing a letter to the US Military asking for information about your spouse's whereabouts
  • Searching Department of Motor Vehicle records
  • Canvassing your spouse's former neighborhood to ask if anyone knows where he or she is currently living
  • Asking the local and state police and/or the Department of Corrections for help

Your lawyer may suggest that you hire a private investigator to help in your search for your spouse. If you are being represented by a large law firm, there may be an investigator on staff who can provide assistance.

Requirements Vary by Jurisdiction

Your lawyer will be able to advise you exactly what steps you need to take to satisfy the requirement to conduct a search for a spouse. Keep detailed records of all of your efforts to locate your spouse. This information will be used as part of the documents will need to submit to the Court to get an order for service by publication.

Here's how service by publication works: A notice is published--usually in the "Legal Notices" section of your local newspaper. The judge in the case will determine how often the notice will be published. Usually, you will be ordered to publish it once a week for between four and six weeks. After that point, if your spouse has not responded to the ad, then you have, in fact, "served" your divorce papers.

Filing Documents After Service by Publication

After the ad has been run for the required number of weeks, you are required to file two sworn statements with the Court Clerk's office. The first document is an affidavit indicating that you have made efforts to locate your spouse and have been unable to do so. The second document you need to file is an Affidavit of Publication. You will receive it from the newspaper that published the notices. If the Affidavit of Publication is not filed with the Court Clerk's office, then you have not demonstrated proof of service on the Respondent, and your case will not be able to proceed.

If You Find Your Spouse

If, as a result of these efforts, you find a current address for your spouse, you then need to arrange to have him or her served with divorce papers. The divorce will proceed as usual.

Now you know the procedure for how to divorce someone you can't locate. If you really want to end your marriage, not having a current address is not necessarily a barrier to getting the result you want.

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How to Divorce Someone You Can’t Locate