Sometimes couples wind up separating rather than divorcing. One spouse may abandon the other, or both may agree that they can't stay together but that divorce is not practical for some reason, such as a lack of money. Over time you could lose track of the spouse you separated from, which can cause problems if you do decide that you need to file for divorce. But even if you don't know where your spouse is living now, you can still get a divorce. Take a look at what you need to know about divorcing a missing spouse.
Perform a Search
Ordinarily, the first thing that you need to do to start a divorce is to serve your spouse with the divorce paperwork, but you can't do that if you can't find your spouse. There is a way to fulfill the legal requirement to serve notice when your spouse can't be found, but before you can do that, you must convince a court that you've done everything you can to locate your spouse so that you can serve notice to them directly.
Talk to your lawyer about what your state requires you to do to find your spouse. For example, some states require you to inquire with the military to find out if your spouse has enlisted, while other states do not. In any case, it's in your best interest to locate your spouse in most cases, as the divorce will most likely move faster that way. You can try searching public records, checking with the U.S. postmaster for forwarding addresses, contacting any known relatives, friends, or previous employers, and searching social media, among other things. Remember to save copies of any correspondence or receipts if you pay to search public records. That way, you can show them to the court.
Once you've exhausted your search and met the legal requirements for your state, you can file an affidavit with the court affirming that you've tried everything and still can't locate your spouse.
Notice by Publication
In every state, you can serve a divorce notice to a missing spouse by publication. That means that instead of serving the divorce papers by mail or in person, you'll have them printed in a newspaper ad instead. Although all states allow this, different states have different rules about how you must go about it.
For example, in Georgia, you must run the newspaper ad for four weeks. Other states may have a longer or shorter time requirement. Which newspaper you run the ad in varies as well. The judge may simply order you to run the ad in your own local paper. On the other hand, if you have a last known address for your spouse, the judge may order you to run the ad in that city.
Once the ad has run for the required period of time, the court will give your spouse some time to respond following the final notice. If your spouse fails to contact the court during that time, the court will allow the divorce proceedings to go forward without them.
Divorce by Default
If the divorce proceedings go forward with one spouse missing, you'll receive the divorce by default. If you have minor children from the marriage currently living with you, you should receive physical custody of them by default as well. However, there are some things that a judge can't decide on without your spouse present.
For example, the judge can't order a missing spouse to pay alimony or child support for your children. The judge also can't determine what kind of visitation a missing spouse should have, or divide up marital property. If your spouse is located later, these issues can be ruled upon at that time.
Divorcing a missing spouse is possible, but it's more complicated and time-consuming than other types of divorce. Consult a divorce attorney in your area to make sure that your divorce is handled properly.