Can You Divorce A Missing Spouse?
Many people lose touch with their spouse, who might have packed up and moved in the middle of the night. When it comes time to divorce, however, the fact that your spouse is missing creates a big headache.
In the normal divorce, the spouse who files divorce papers will serve a copy on their spouse, who has a chance to respond. But what happens when you can’t find your spouse? Does this mean you must remain married indefinitely?
Fortunately, Florida courts will allow you to go through with a divorce. But there are hoops you need to jump through first. Contact an experienced Tampa divorce lawyer at Bubley & Bubley, P.A. for help with this process. It is possible to cut the cord and move on with your life.
Why a Missing Spouse is a Problem
Florida courts can only hear certain disputes. A prerequisite is that they have jurisdiction over the two people getting divorced. In the typical divorce, a court has jurisdiction when a spouse is properly served with divorce papers. That act of service gives them the power to hear the divorce.
When a spouse is missing, however, there is no personal service. That makes asserting jurisdiction over the spouse difficult—but not impossible.
Service by Publication
There are alternatives to personal service, one of which is service by publication. You can have a Notice of Dissolution published once a week for 4 total weeks in a newspaper. This type of service is adequate to give your spouse legal notice of your intent to divorce. However, before you can seek service by publication, you’ll need to make a diligent search to find your missing spouse.
What is a Diligent Search?
You can’t just rush to court and request notice by publication. If only it were that easy! Instead, the judge wants assurances you have made a strong effort to find your spouse. If you succeed and find him or her, you can then go ahead and use personal service.
A diligent search should be a good faith attempt to find your spouse and at a minimum should include:
- Contacting your spouse’s family and asking if they know where he or she is living.
- Asking neighbors if they know where your spouse has moved to.
- Searching public records in the tax collector’s office for an address.
- Searching DMV records.
- Looking in phone directories.
- Asking the Post Office for a forwarding address, which might require a Freedom of Information Act request.
- Contacting your spouse’s last known employer and asking for any information about where they moved to.
- Using internet search engines like MyLife to find out where your spouse is currently living.
Remember to fully document your search and follow up on leads. If you hear from a friend that your spouse has moved to Tallahassee, look in phone books and search online.
We Can Help
When a spouse is missing, unique challenges arise. A Hillsborough County, Florida divorce lawyer at Bubley & Bubley, P.A. is prepared to help you through the process. Contact us to schedule a time to discuss your case.