What Happens If You Want a Divorce But You Cannot Locate Your Spouse?

One of the first requirements in filing for divorce is the “service of process,” which is how you make sure that your spouse gets a copy of the divorce papers. Once the other side has been served with the complaint for divorce, then the process can begin. If you do not serve the papers properly your case can be dismissed.

What happens if you serve your spouse with the divorce complaint at their last known address and they are no longer there? You will have to make a sufficient effort to locate your spouse and make sure that they are served with the divorce papers; however, if you are unsuccessful in locating them you may get permission from the court to publish a notice of divorce in the newspaper, which is called “Service by Publication.” The judge will likely require that the person filing a request for permission to use service by publication be able to show that they have made a reasonable effort to locate their missing spouse.

How much of an effort must I expend to find my missing spouse?

The following are a few tips from lawhelp.org on ways that you can try to locate your missing spouse:

  • Check your spouse’s last known job
  • Check with any of your spouse’s family members that you can contact
  • Search for them on the Internet
  • Check Maryland criminal court records (Maryland Judiciary Case Search)
  • Check with the Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Check the Social Security Death Index website
  • Check the federal bureau of prisons

You have a 60 day time limit from the day you file your divorce complaint to serve your spouse. If you are not able to serve them within that time you can request another 60 days.

After you have proven to the court that you have made every reasonable effort to locate your missing spouse, the court may order service by mailing a notice to your spouse’s last known address, and they may also post a notice on the courthouse bulletin board, or by publishing the notice at least once a week for three successive weeks in one or more newspapers in circulation in the county in which the divorce action will take place.

The person has 30 days to respond if they are in Maryland, 60 days to respond if they are served outside of the state and 90 days to answer if they are located outside of the United States.

What if they still do not respond?

You may divorce your spouse by default if you can’t locate them as long as the judge is satisfied that you did everything possible to serve your spouse with notice of the divorce complaint. If you are unsure whether or not you have made the best possible effort, we can help you review your actions and create options for moving forward.

At the law office of Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC we are here to represent your interests and fight for the best settlement possible in your divorce. We invite you to contact us to make an appointment with an experienced Maryland divorce attorney with whom you can discuss your case.