Woman removing wedding ring

Can I Get a Divorce If I Don’t Know Where My Spouse Is? 

Law Office of Shelly Jean John July 25, 2023

Divorces can happen for multiple reasons since no two relationships are the same. Another scenario is one spouse wanting a divorce and the other doesn't, so they flee. In cases like this, you’ll need to resort to alternative methods of serving divorce papers to ensure you gain the freedom and independence you need. If you’d like to sit down with a divorce attorney in the Ontario, California, or Riverside, California, area to discuss your options for filing for divorce, reach out to me at the Law Office of Shelly Jean John. I have the knowledge, experience, and resources to walk you through the entire process.  

Serving Divorce Papers to a Missing Spouse

Although it’s less common, I often have clients who wish to divorce a missing spouse and may be asking, “Can I file for divorce if I don’t know where my spouse is?” The short answer is yes—one spouse can’t force the other to stay married to them, but you will have a bit more work on your hands to get it done. Serving divorce papers to a missing spouse will require a different approach than is typically necessary, but working with an experienced family law attorney can make the process easier and proceed more quickly. 

In a typical divorce, both spouses can either file a joint petition or one spouse will “serve” the others with divorce papers. The receiving spouse then has 30 days to issue a response. However, if one spouse is missing and you’ve already made a concerted effort to find them, you’ll have to request permission to use an alternative method of service. This typically means publishing the petition at the courthouse or in the newspaper (sometimes called "service by publication"). In general, you’ll need to ensure the following is done: 

  • Demonstrate to the judge that you’ve made every effort to locate your spouse (this will vary based on your situation but could include showing previous attempts to serve your spouse with divorce papers)  

  • Post the petition within 60 days of filing for your divorce  

  • Have the post run for at least three weeks 

If There Is No Response

If, after your post has been published for three consecutive weeks, there is still no response from your spouse, you can then proceed with a default divorce. You may still need to present documentation and evidence to the judge explaining the grounds for your divorce and your requests for child support, child custody, or asset allocation. Once the judge evaluates your case, they may issue you a default judgment. 

How to Proceed If They Respond

If your posting does result in your spouse responding to the petition, you will not be eligible for a default divorce, and you’ll need to pursue more traditional methods. This could mean that you hire a mediator to help you and your spouse come to a consensus on the terms of your divorce, or you may be able to file an uncontested divorce if you can both come to an agreement on your own. If neither of these options is viable, then your best option is to work with a skilled divorce lawyer who can assess your situation and offer you legal guidance on how to proceed.   

Take Your Future in Your Hands

If you’re in the Ontario, California, or Riverside, California area and are trying to get a divorce but find yourself asking, “What if my spouse doesn’t respond to the divorce papers?” you may need to pursue an alternative method. Reach out to my firm at the Law Office of Shelly Jean John to discuss your options for divorce when you can’t locate your spouse.