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Divorcing a Missing SpouseThe dissolution of marriage is undoubtedly hard on both partners. However, its becomes exponentially more difficult and harder to finalize a divorce when one spouse is not compliant or even remotely amicable.

Many spouses choose to relocate after their divorce, usually for the chance of a fresh start in a new place. Wiping the slate clean is a tried and true method to move on with the new chapter in one’s life. But, what happens if a spouse is unable to move on because their divorce cannot be finalized due to a missing spouse?

Running Away
On occasion, a spouse will separate and relocate without telling or notifying the other spouse. Most court systems have a provision for granting a divorce when you cannot locate your spouse. The courts usually have a procedure of publishing or mailing (to the last known address) the notice of the divorce. Although the court may decline to enter substantive orders (such as alimony or child support) without the presence of the other party, the divorce itself will almost certainly be granted. As long as there is an attempt to contact the spouse in question, divorces can still be finalized, sans the missing spouse.

Our legal system requires “serving notice on,” or informing your spouse that you want a divorce in all legal senses of those words. But if you don’t know your spouse’s whereabouts, there is something called Divorce by Publication.

According to the law, courts require, first, that a “diligent effort” be made to “search” for your spouse in the jurisdiction (county/state) where the spouse was last known to live. This can be done by contacting various agencies, such as the post office, the board of elections, the different branches of the military, or DMV, and asking whether they know the person’s current or last place of residence. Searches also include telephone directories and the Internet.

Now, if the search fails to locate anyone, the spouse seeking the divorce can apply to the court for an Order of Publication. The application lists all the search efforts so that the court sees that a “diligent effort” was made to find the missing spouse, in essence, showing all resources were exhausted. When an Order of Publication is signed by a judge, a legal notice is then needed to be published in a newspaper stating the spouse is bringing a divorce action against the missing spouse. This is the  legal equivalent of “serving notice” with a “summons” in cases of a missing spouse.

In order to carry out a legally extensive and diligent effort, the legal notice or legal “advertisement” must be placed in the newspaper within 30 days after the judge signs the order. The order specifies which newspaper to publish the notice (usually one where the missing spouse was last known to have lived), and the three times the notice was published (which is usually one notice per week for three weeks).

If after 30 days from the date when the third, and last advertisement, was published, the missing spouse does not respond, then the spouse can file for the divorce “by default.” This means that, despite a thorough search effort and sufficient legal notice in a newspaper, the missing spouse failed to respond to your intention to seek a divorce. He or she is considered to have “defaulted,” and your divorce will then be granted.

10 thoughts on “Divorcing a Missing Spouse

  1. Patrishia P. Jackson

    My husband, Reginald C. Jackson Sr and I have been separated for over 22yr. I don’t know where he is now. While my son was in school I knew where he was even while our son was in colleg, which he gave me no assistance. He no longer works at Frasier church and no contact. I want a divorce ee will never be a family again.

  2. kristen Sutherland

    I have been married for 5 years and can not find the man I married we have not been together in 4 and a half years he left and I haven’t seen him sence

  3. jacob bullard

    I need a very specific list of rules for what the missing spouse divorce requires as the search in las cruces new mexico. Thanks

    1. Brixton

      Please call our toll free help line to speak with one of our Customer Support Agents. Although they will not be able to provide you with legal advice, they may be able to assist you in finding the answers you are looking for.

  4. Kelsie

    I was wondering how to go about the missing spouse if you have searched and nothing has come of it and I have for well over a month. And I have another issue, due to family issues I have to move back to Indiana, and currently living in AL. When I move to Indiana again can I file for divorce there or do I have to do it in Alabama?

    1. Brittany

      You can file the paperwork with your signatures. They then will require you attempt to serve your spouse. Since you do not know his location you can post an ad in the paper or send forms to the last known address and show them the proof of this. Then when he does not respond in the 30 days allowed you can ask the court to proceed without him in default.

  5. Hetal patel

    After finished publication what the next step for default divorce. I don’t want any spouse support and I don’t have children.

    1. Brittany

      It solely depends on the state. Please contact the court after filing the default stage and they will notify you with what is needed.

  6. Jean

    My spouse and I have been a part for many years now. We have no desire to be together. I was able to locate him on Facebook. He said that he would sign the papers and give me an address to serve him but then he stopped replying. In the past when I had his phone number he did the same thing. Claimed that he would sign but then stopped replying. One time I was able to get an address from his little sister. I tried to file my own papers out of desperation. His sister signed to receive the papers but the court rejected the papers. I guess I filled them in wrong and he never bothered to return his portion. Why do I have to put so much effort into locating and serving him. He does not want to be found or served. None of this makes any sense to me. I should be able to show the judge our Facebook correspondence and be granted the divorce. I have to keep going after a person that won’t cooperate and then pay money that I don’t have serve by publication. I’m very frustrated to say the least.


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