How to divorce someone you haven’t seen in years is a tough question to answer because it may require extra effort from your side to find your spouse. If you cannot find the missing partner, the court may take necessary actions.  

Though there are various grounds for divorce, there are two types: no-fault and at-fault divorces.

The legal distinctions between them and the required documentation, filing costs, and logistics differ from state to state.

But what if you want to divorce someone you can’t find?

That means you are a “divorce by publication” candidate. Furthermore, state rules regarding divorce by default vary; they all require that both spouses have been living apart for a particular period and that your spouse has been unable to be contacted despite your best attempts.

Married couples frequently drift apart without actually separating; this occurs most frequently in early marriages or when marriage is the only option in a given circumstance. Until one of the spouses decides to remarry and realizes that certain paperwork must be completed, neither is concerned about where the other partner is.

If you are divorcing a missing spouse and you are unable to file a divorce petition against him or her, you can obtain a divorce using a specific procedure called substituted service, which is explained below in detail.

What Should I Do To Locate My Spouse?

You can look for your spouse before or after you submit your lawsuit, or you can do both. However, if too much time has passed, the court may need you to attempt some things again to ensure that the information is current.

After you file the lawsuit, you should mail the divorce papers (Complaint, Summons, and Notice of Initial Hearing) to your spouse’s last known address, using both certified and normal mail.

The legislation does not specify what you must do. It depends on the circumstances. You will be judged on whether or not you have done enough.

Here are some examples of the types of efforts the court expects you to make to locate your spouse:

  • Tell us the details of when and where you last saw your partner.
  • Send the court documents to your spouse’s last known address through certified mail with a return receipt. Send the documents by regular mail as well. When you get your mail back, save it and attach copies of the envelopes to show that it was returned to you as undeliverable.
  • If feasible, check your spouse’s last known address in person if you have no reservations about doing so.
  • If your spouse had a previous job you know of, contact them.
  • Check with any of your spouse’s relatives you have contact information for.
  • Look up information on the internet.
  • You can find your ex-spouse’s present address by contacting your local Electoral Registration Office if they are registered to vote and still live in your region.
  • Look up criminal court records in Washington, D.C.
  • Consult the United States military locate webpage.
  • Visit the Social Security Death Index website for further information.
  • Look into local hospitals and shelters for the homeless (they may not give you information, but you can check with them anyway).
  • Provide any additional information related to the matter.

Process To Follow if You Want To Divorce Someone You Haven’t Seen in Years

The standard way to initiate a divorce is for your attorney to serve your partner with the papers at their last known address or in person if they can’t be reached.

If you haven’t been able to locate your spouse despite making reasonable efforts, you can seek the court for an Order of Notice by Publication.

This means you must publish a notice of your intention to divorce your marriage in the spouse’s last known address in a newspaper. In most cases, you’ll run this “legal advertisement” for three weeks, giving your spouse time to react to the final notification.

What happens if they don’t respond?

By default, you and your attorney may proceed to finalize your divorce.

You can divorce your spouse even if you are unable to find them or you don’t want to participate in the divorce process, as long as a judge is satisfied that your spouse was given reasonable notice of the divorce. When your spouse goes missing, publication of notice may be the best alternative.

All of these efforts will be made to demonstrate to the court that you were unable to serve the petition to your partner in person and, as a result, have requested substituted service. In a legitimate case, the court will verify all of your attempts and then attempt to locate your spouse via newspaper articles, the internet, e-mail, and other means.

The court’s search strategy will be determined by the facts of the case. The court will also determine the time limit for serving the notice of intent to defend.

Even if your spouse does not participate in the divorce, the court can issue orders for the efficient dissolution of the marital estate, such as property division, asset, and debt division, and orders affecting children, such as custody, visitation, and child support, among other things.

What Happens if a Motion Is Granted or Denied?

After filing the motion, the court will review it, which will issue an order granting or refusing your request. A copy of the order will be mailed or given to you during a court hearing.

Court considers your “reasonable attempts” to locate them if you do not know where they are.

So, what exactly constitutes a reasonable effort?

Calling the other person’s friends and family to see if they know where they are, checking social media websites like Twitter and Facebook, serving at the person’s last known address, and checking other public records are all examples of reasonable efforts.

If you still haven’t discovered the person after making as many “reasonable efforts,” you can notify the court that you require alternative service. You’ll need to submit a Motion for Alternative or Substituted Service to accomplish this.

You must specify where the person was last known to dwell in your motion, as well as the actions you took to locate them. You should specifically ask the court to allow you to perform alternative duty.

The court will rule on your motion and will likely provide you instructions on how to get a divorce without knowing where the spouse is and serve the person if service was completed through your actions. You will most likely serve by publishing.

The court can deny your motion, and the judge will specify what else you should do to locate your spouse. You are free to carry out those tasks. You may just be told that you haven’t done enough by the court. Then you must decide what more efforts you can make to locate your spouse and show that you cannot do so.

You can re-file the motion when you’ve completed these extra tasks. You can illustrate what you’ve done differently by referencing your previous motion.

If your motion is approved, a notice must be published in two newspapers once a week for three weeks. One should be a legal publication, which is usually the Daily Washington Law Reporter. The alternative option is to use a general circulation newspaper like the Washington Post, Washington Times, or Washington Afro-American.

You are responsible for arranging arrangements with the newspapers after receiving the court ruling allowing your application. Inform their classified ads office that you require a legal notice to be published.

The notification must be published in the newspapers. Most judges will include that notice with the order approving your motion. If the judge refuses, seek assistance at the Family Court Central Intake Center or the Family Court Self-Help Center.

Default Procedure for Divorce

You can get your divorce finalized without ever having to find the other party if you use a default.

The following steps should be followed:

  1. Obtain a Default Application and Affidavit. This information is available on the Court’s website or through your lawyer.
  2. Complete the Application and Affidavit forms.
  3. Submit the Application and Affidavit in their entirety.
  4. Send a copy of the Application and Affidavit that has been filed. Send to the last known address if you don’t know where they live.
  5. Wait for ten days.
  6. Submit a request for a default hearing. You can do so by contacting or going to the court’s website.
  7. While you await the default hearing, you should prepare certain documents to bring along. This includes a Dissolution Decree (you can get this on the court website). There are a few more documents you’ll need if you have children. Make copies of the Decree and bring them with you.
  8. Make your way to your hearing. The judge will be asking you some questions before signing off on your decree.
  9. You’re finally divorced.

Conclusion

Several steps must be taken, and it can take a while. You should consult an attorney to ensure you are following the correct procedures.

We conclude the following:

  • How to divorce someone you haven’t seen in years is a tough question to answer because it may require extra effort from your side to find your spouse. If you cannot find the missing partner, the court may take necessary actions.
  • The legislation does not specify what you must do. It depends on the circumstances. You will be judged on whether or not you have done enough.
  • The standard way to initiate a divorce action is for your attorney to serve your partner with the papers at their last known address or in person if they can’t be reached.
  • One should mail the divorce papers (Complaint, Summons, and Notice of Initial Hearing) to your spouse’s last known address, using both certified and normal mail.
  • The court will rule on your motion and will likely provide you instructions on how to serve the person and/or if service was completed through your actions. You will most likely serve by publishing.
  • The court can deny your motion, and the judge will specify what else you should do to locate your spouse. You are free to carry out those tasks.

We hope this article has been of assistance with the process of how to serve divorce papers to someone you can’t find.

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