You can certainly file for divorce without knowing your spouse’s location. The problem becomes whether a court will grant you a divorce without notifying your spouse. This is the basic concept of due process. You cannot do something in the courts if you do not let the other person know. The court is going to look to you to see what efforts you made to try and locate your spouse.
When you begin a divorce, you must let the other person know you are seeking a divorce. You must either have them personally served (so they know you filed for divorce) or get constructive service on your spouse. Constructive service is complicated for attorneys so you should take all reasonable steps to locate your spouse before meeting with an attorney.
When you have your spouse personally served, they have 20 days to respond before you can move the case forward without them. If you must use constructive service, you must file an affidavit of diligent search with the court, saying you did all the steps below that you could, and then you must publish information in a local newspaper where your spouse last lived. The information must be published for at least four weeks. Then, the newspaper must provide proof to you or the court that the information was published and when. Then, if your spouse does not respond, you may ask the court to move the case forward without them.
Below are some helpful tips on things you should do to locate your spouse. These are the steps the courts will require you to take, so it is better to take the steps now. Make sure to keep all of the writing and information you find. Consider getting a folder or notebook to keep all the information organized. Make sure to contact as many people as you can, in writing, so you have proof to show the court.
If you cannot locate your spouse, consider these steps:
- Do a Freedom of Information Act request from the United States Post Office. This may provide you with a mailing address of your spouse. Learn more about requests here: https://about.usps.com/handbooks/as353/as353add_003.htm
- Reach out to the last known employer of your spouse. Remember, be nice – you need information from them. Ask the employer if they have a forwarding address or where they sent the spouse’s last paycheck or W2.
- Does your spouse work for or in a union? Teachers, firefighters, and other professions may have unions that the spouse is a member of. Contact the local union office and see if they have an updated address for your spouse.
- Does your spouse hold a professional license? Lawyers, accountants, massage therapists, and other professions may have licensing agencies that the spouse is a member of. Contact the licensing agency’s office and see if they have an updated address for your spouse.
- Did you contact the relatives of your spouse? If you are planning for divorce, this may be awkward, but remember – having an address is going to be easier (and faster) than completing constructive service. Consider reaching out to relatives via text or Facebook messenger, or some other written method. Keep their responses in your folder or notebook.
- Relatives of your spouse that you should follow up with include parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, grandparents, great-grandparents, former inlaws, stepparents, and stepchildren.
- If any relative provided a lead, you must also follow up on those leads. For example, if your spouse’s aunt told you that your spouse is living with Cousin Mike, you must now try and locate Cousin Mike, get his address, and see if your spouse lives there or if Cousin Mike knows where your spouse is.
- Review obituaries in your spouse’s last known area for your spouse’s possible death.
- Review telephone listing in your spouse’s last known area. Websites such as www.switchboard.com may be helpful. A public library may also be able to help you.
- Have you looked up law enforcement arrests? In Pinellas County, Florida, we have a website “Who’s In Jail” that you can search to see if your spouse has been arrested recently and what address they provided upon their arrest. https://www.pcsoweb.com/whos-in-jail/
- Have you looked up criminal records of your spouse? Go to the clerk’s website for the county that your spouse most likely last lived in. At the clerk’s website, search for criminal court records and enter your spouse’s name. In Pinellas County, Florida, you can use https://ccmspa.pinellascounty.org/PublicAccess/default.aspx
- Search Highway Patrol records in the state of your spouse’s last known address.
- SearchDepartment of Motor Vehicle records in the state of your spouse’s last known address.
- Search Child Support Enforcement Agency information if your spouse has other children that they are paying child support for.
- Search Hospitals in the last known area of where your spouse lived. Make sure to list the hospital you called, who you spoke with, whether your spouse was admitted there.
- If your spouse owns real estate, contact or search the Tax Assessor’s and Tax Collector’s Office in the area where the property is to see if the mailing address for your spouse was updated.
If you are doing constructive service, your next step is to locate a newspaper in the area where your spouse last lived. You will need to contact the Legal Notices department of the newspaper and ask what you need to provide to them so that they can publish a notice for your divorce case. Often times you will be required to write and provide the Notice of Legal Action to the newspaper yourself. Fees for publishing the legal action will range from $100 – $300 for the four week publishing period. Ask the Legal Notices Department which dates the notice will be published. Write those dates in your notebook or folder. After the last date passes, contact the Legal Notices Department again. Ask them to email or mail you a copy of the Affidavit of Publication – this proves to the court that the information was published in a newspaper. When you receive the affidavit, you will need to file a copy with the court.
If your spouse has not responded at this time, it is time to file a Motion for Default because your spouse is not participating. You will now have to ask the court to move your case forward without your spouse’s participation. Because the process of constructive service is complicated and very detail oriented, you should strongly consider using the services of an experienced attorney to assist you. In addition to the very specific requirements, attorney’s offices will calendar deadlines and follow up on these matters for you.