How do you get a divorce with an absent spouse?

UPDATED: Aug 27, 2011

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How do you get a divorce with an absent spouse?

I live in CA and I think my wife lives in WAbut I’m not sure. I’ve made several attempts to contact her and she’s not responding. We have already agreed on divorce but now I can’t find her. What should I do?

Asked on August 27, 2011 California


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

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

The concept of "notice" in any legal proceeding is essential.  In a divorce setting this means that even if a spouse can't be located there must still be an attempt to notify them of the divorce action before it can proceed.  This is accomplished through what is known as "divorce by publication", which is allowed in CA.

Basically the way ot works is as follows. You as the filing spouse (i.e. the "petitioner") must make a diligent effort to find your husband (i.e. the "respondent").  You will have to present proof to a court that you made a thorough search to locate him. To prove that you have made a food faith effort, you will have to show the court that you checked with family/friends, voting records, the phone book, DMV, and any other source that would likely lead to uncovering your spouse's whereabouts.  Once you have demonstrated to the the court's satisfaction that you have made a diligent search, it will allow you to serve your spouse by publishing notice in a newspaper (as opposed to the usual method of personal service). The court will instruct you as to which paper you should use; typically it is one in the area of a spouse's last known address.  

At that point, your husband will have 30 days to file a response (which begins to run 28 days after the first day of publication). If your husband fails to respond within the 30 days, you will file a request to enter a default dissolution of marriage. No hearing is held. The divorce becomes final 6 months after the first publication of the summons in the newspaper.

Note: While the court can grant the divorce in a publication action, it cannot make any decisions regarding child custody, child support or division of property.

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 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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