Is it possible to get a divorce if one of the parties is unable to be found?

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Is it possible to get a divorce if one of the parties is unable to be found?

A friend of mine has sent his spouse the paperwork on more than one occasion and she refused to sign on both occasions. She has since disappeared and he has tried locating her via private investigator but has been unable to find her.

Asked on September 20, 2011 under Family Law, Florida

Answers:

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

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Legal action is not taken against a person without giving them an opportunity to appear and explain their side. Accordingly, notice must be given to them. In a situation of a divorce where there is a missing spouse they still must be informed of the divorce action before it can proceed. This is what is accomplished by a "divorce by publication".

Typically, the filing spouse (i.e. petitioner) must make a diligent effort to find their missing spouse (i.e. respondent).  They will have to present proof to a court that they made every effort to search and find them. They typically will have to show that they checked with family/friends, voting records, the phone book, DMV, and any other source that would likely lead to uncovering their current location.  In this case, having hired a private investigaotor will be excellant proof that a good faith search was undertaken.

At that point, the petitioner will be allowed to serve the repondent by publishing notice of the divorce in a newspaper (instead of the more usual method of personal service).  The court will instruct you as to which paper should be used. Typically it will be in one that is in the area of their last known whereabouts. 

In most jurisdictions, the respondent has 30-60 days to file an answer after the first day of publication. If they fail to respond within that time, the petitioner can then file a request to enter a default dissolution of marriage (i.e. dicorce). Generally it is granted upon the terms requested by the petitioner (although the respondent is given a certain timeframe in which they can appeal the divorce or the terms of the divorce).


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