How Do I File For Divorce if I Don't Know Where my Spouse Is?

man looking at watchDivorce is hard enough as it is, but throw in the added factor of not knowing where in the world your spouse is located, and it may seem impossible. If you haven’t seen or talked to your spouse in years and thus don’t know what state or even what country they’re living in, finding them is no walk in the park, and truthfully—they may never be found.

Rest assured: you can dissolve your marriage in the state of Oregon even if your spouse is nowhere to be found. It is not impossible, but there will be a few extra steps involved. With a little determination, proper planning, and a good attorney by your side, filing for divorce from someone who has seemingly disappeared can be done.

How Does the Process Differ?

The initial steps for any divorce are the same—file the appropriate paperwork. In a simple divorce case, a spouse files a Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage, has a third party serve the papers to the opposing spouse, and the divorce case begins. The initial paperwork steps are the same if you don’t know where your spouse is, but you’ll run into a bit of roadblock if you can’t physically serve them the paperwork. This is when the process begins to diverge.

Search High and Low

In order to move forward, you’ll have to be able to prove to the judge that you put forth every effort to locate your spouse and give them notice of the divorce. The form you’ll fill out for this is called an Affidavit of Diligent Search, so you want to make sure your search is just that—diligent. And please don’t forget—document every step and effort you put into locating them, as you will ultimately need to present these to the court as proof in order to move forward. Here are some recommendations of places to start and tools to utilize to locate your spouse:

  • Contact any family or friends that you shared who may have information on their whereabouts
  • Check out their last known address and the last place they worked—neighbors, landlords or coworkers may be able to give you leads on where they moved
  • Do a simple internet search of their name for leads—news articles, social media tags, and Whitepages are all links that may give you some clues. Also check the DMV, military records, Social Security Death Index, public court records, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, or any other online forum you think may produce results.
  • If you have the funds, hiring a private investigator is another tool for locating your spouse. Whether they’re able to produce results or not, it will, in the very least, prove to the court that you took the search seriously and put in a good faith effort.

Serve Your Spouse by Alternative Means

If you’ve taken the appropriate steps to search for your spouse high and low and still come up empty, the next step will be to serve your spouse by alternative means, which will need to be approved by a judge first (this is where that thorough documentation of your steps really comes into play).

Alternative means of serving your spouse can include Service by Publication, Service by Mail, or Service by Posting. To keep it short, these means of serving your spouse essentially allow you to either send your summons to their last known mailing or emailing address, or post your summons in a public manner on the off-chance that your missing spouse may stumble upon it in the newspaper or in a courthouse. It’s a last-ditch effort to get the word out to your spouse that you want a divorce. If they fail to respond, you’re free to move forward and file a motion for default. With any luck, the court will grant a judgement in your favor, and you and your attorney can work out the legalities of shared property, child custody, and so on.

Clearly, filing for divorce from a missing spouse is no simple task—there are a lot of steps to take and hoops you will need to jump through in order to obtain the best possible results. While you shouldn’t be discouraged (we promise, it can be done!), it’s advisable to hire an attorney, like those at Pacific Cascade Legal, to help you plan-out the most effective strategies, and to make the process as smooth and timely as possible.