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How do you divorce a spouse you can’t find?

On Behalf of | Apr 27, 2024 | Divorce |

Maybe you and your spouse amicably parted ways a while ago and just lost touch. Or, maybe your spouse is purposefully staying “under the radar” for some reason (like to avoid being served with a divorce petition). 

So, how do you divorce your spouse when you can’t even find them to serve the required notices, much less bring them to the negotiation table to discuss the terms of your split? You’re not the first person to have this problem – and you definitely won’t be the last. Fortunately, Illinois law has a solution.

Divorce by publication is a fall-back option

When you initiate a divorce, you’re called the “petitioner,” and it’s generally your responsibility to formally deliver notice to your spouse, or the “respondent.” Typically, that means hiring a process server or a county sheriff to deliver the divorce papers to your spouse. This is known as due process

If you cannot find your spouse, however, you still have another option: service by publication. This involves seeking the court’s permission to publish a notice of your impending divorce in the local paper with all the relevant information your spouse would need to respond (if they so desire).

Before you can get a judge’s permission to go the service by publication route, you will need to prove to the court that you have exhausted all available routes to provide notice in person to the respondent. That may mean things like:

  • Sending certified mail to their last known address
  • Sending certified mail to their place of business or employment
  • Contacting their closest relatives or friends
  • Reaching out to your spouse through their social media accounts
  • Contacting your spouse at their last known phone number or email address
  • Looking at public records to see if you can determine where they may be living
  • Using a private investigator to see if your spouse can be located that way

Exactly what needs to be done in each case can vary, but you will ultimately be required to swear that you’ve made a genuine effort to locate the other party before you can proceed with divorce by publication.

Your divorce can then proceed by default

If your spouse still fails to respond even after the notice is publicized, the court will generally grant you what is known as a “default” divorce. In essence, this is similar to an uncontested divorce, only it proceeds without any input from your spouse. 

Broadly speaking, the court will simply approve your petition as written, which means that your spouse will have no say when it comes to the division of your marital assets and debts, custody and visitation, or other important issues.

The inability to locate your spouse when you want to initiate divorce proceedings is inconvenient – but it does not have to stop you. It will slow the divorce process down a bit, and you have to follow a very specific procedure to make sure that your spouse’s rights are not violated. For that reason and more, the appropriate legal assistance can make it easier for you to move forward with your life.