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What To Do If You Can't Serve Your Spouse Divorce Papers

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For some people, the most frustrating thing about getting divorce is making it to court in the first place. For one reason or another, one spouse will refuse to make him or herself available to be served with the divorce papers, effectively halting the proceedings before they even have a chance to begin. If you're stuck in this situation, here's what you need to do to move forward in your case.

Petition the Court for Alternative Service Options

The courts recognize there are times when one spouse is unable to locate his or her soon-to-be ex-spouse to serve the divorce papers. In these cases, the courts will allow the petitioner to notify the absent spouse of the proceedings in one of three alternate ways:

  • Service by publication – This method lets you serve notice to your spouse via the newspaper by taking out an advertisement or posting the notice in the classified section of the local paper. The length of time you'll need to post the notice varies by jurisdiction. For instance, in California, you must publish the notice for 4 consecutive weeks.
  • Service by court posting – This is similar to service by publication except you would post the notice in a publicly accessible space at the court house.
  • Service by Internet – If a person is particularly hard to find but you have contact with them on social media, the judge may allow you to serve them via the Internet. This is an extremely new ruling made in a case involving a Brooklyn woman who was unable to locate her spouse but did have contact with him through Facebook. The judge ruled she could post a notice to him via private message for three weeks to satisfy the service requirement.

Winning the Right to Use Alternative Service Methods

A judge will only grant petitioners the right to use alternative service methods if they can prove they have exhausted all other means to locate their spouses. In the case of the Brooklyn woman, for example, her spouse had no current address on file anywhere. The attorney even hired a private detective to locate the man but the search was unsuccessful. Therefore, the court granted her request to serve him via Facebook because it was the only avenue she had to contact him.

To prove your case, it's critical that you keep a record of all the things you did to find your spouse. Some methods of locating an absent spouse include:

  • Sending a letter to the person's last known address with "Return Service Requested" printed on the envelope. The post office will usually send the letter back to you with the person's forwarded address if one is available.
  • Check your spouse's last known place of employment
  • Use online and offline phone directories
  • Check criminal court records
  • Check state and federal prison databases
  • Pull a credit report
  • Call local emergency care facilities
  • Check homeless shelters
  • Contact the DMV in the area where you spouse last had a license or identification card
  • Check obituaries and/or the Social Security Death Index

Some location methods will require court orders, so it's best to enlist the help of an attorney when attempting to find your spouse and serve him or her divorce papers.To learn more, contact Lynn Jackson Shultz & Lebrun PC