Finding the Missing Spouse

Sometimes people marry and then drift apart, not only emotionally but also physically, and one spouse loses track of the other. This is not a problem until one or the other wants to marry again and therefore must divorce the first missing partner.

Courts do not allow a person to get a divorce without his or her spouse knowing it. The divorcing spouse must make a good faith effort to locate his or her missing partner. In most jurisdictions, a good faith effort means a constructive service of process, usually the publication of a newspaper advertisement that legally puts the missing spouse on notice that he or she is being sued for divorce. Generally, this advertisement must be published in a newspaper approved by the courts, and it must appear as many as four times over a period of four consecutive weeks.

But before the divorcing spouse can publish the notice of divorce, in most jurisdictions, he or she must demonstrate to the court that an exhaustive effort has been made to locate the missing party. This includes checking last known addresses, employers, family, friends, the military services, and, in some jurisdictions, making an Internet search.

When these efforts are fruitless, the divorce spouse may petition the court for permission to publish a notice in a newspaper, often one published in a location where the missing spouse is likely to see it. Some jurisdictions are very meticulous about service by publication. Wyoming, for example, specifies that the notice be published in a newspaper that has “a paid circulation of at least 500, and each page must be at least 10 inches by 12 and 1/2 inches.”

After the notice appears, the respondent has a certain number of days to file an answer. If he or she does not — and this is almost always the case — the court permit the divorce to move forward as default. Jurisdictions require proof of good faith efforts, along with proof of publication, before the divorce moves forward as a default action — one where the respondent failed to file an answer.

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