Not being able to locate your spouse is emotionally taxing on multiple levels, and only gets worse if you are in the beginning or middle of the divorce process. Your spouse might be missing for a variety of personal or professional reasons, but you are eager to move on with your life so the “why” might not really matter. The good news is that you can still continue the divorce process and make strides toward a new future even though you cannot locate your spouse. The following guide will help you understand what goes into the process and how you can get a jump start on the next stage of your life.
Initiating a Virginia Divorce When You Cannot Locate Your Spouse
There are several steps you need to take when pursuing a divorce without both members of the marriage readily available for in-person interactions. None of them stop you from being able to move forward with the process, however, so long as you check each box on the list.
1. File for Divorce
Even though you cannot find your spouse, you can still file for divorce. Here are a few of the facts about this process:
- You must file a complaint with the circuit court in the county where you and your spouse last lived together.
- The court or your attorney will advise you on the filing fee.
- Once your spouse has been missing for six months (if you don’t have kids) or one year (if you do have kids), you have automatically fulfilled Virginia’s mandatory waiting period.
Your complaint should detail your grounds for divorce and relay that you have been separated for the required period and cannot locate your spouse. Your complaint will also include details about your marriage, such as whether you have children, the property and real estate you share, and the date you were married.
2. Reach Out to Your Social Network
If you are going through the emotional trauma of divorce and cannot locate your spouse, you might not want to share your pain with your extended friends and family. Unfortunately, you need to call upon family members, friends, and your extended social network to see if those connections can help locate him or her. You need to show the court that you have done your due diligence to find your spouse, which means you need to exhaust every option no matter how uncomfortable it makes you.
- Start with your spouse’s last known address.
- Reach out to your in-laws.
- You should also consider contacting your spouse’s last known employer, who might have a forwarding address from a final paycheck
You can get a divorce without your spouse, but it’s much easier if you can serve him or her with a copy of your complaint. There is a chance that someone in your network has information or has had contact with your spouse, and he or she might reappear once they know you have filed the appropriate paperwork.
3. Use Online Tools
The internet provides a wide range of tools to help find missing people. You can begin a thorough search with these:
- Perform a Google Search and also consider trying other search engines.
- Check your spouse’s social media accounts.
- Check phone listings for numbers in the last city or area where your spouse lived without you.
- Search public records, including voter registration records, criminal databases and court records — especially if your spouse might be serving time in prison.
- Check the Social Security Death Index to make sure your spouse is not on it.
- Search military records if your spouse is active duty or returned to active duty. Service separation papers might also provide information.
- Check Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) records based on the last known or suspected residence.
If you have exhausted all of these options on your own, it might be time to call in a professional.
4. Consider a Private Investigator
If you come up empty when reaching out to friends and family and checking the internet, or if you simply don’t have the time to track down your spouse, hiring a private investigator might be a great option. Experienced investigators rely on tools of the trade and know how to find people — especially those who do not want to be found.
Hiring an investigator might sound expensive, but rates are often reasonable for these types of cases and are often more affordable than what you would have spent trying to find your spouse on your own. When in doubt, ask your divorce attorney. He likely has one or more reliable and effective investigators in his professional network.
5. Service by Publication
If you’ve exhausted all options for finding your spouse and did not have success, your next step is to request that a court approve divorce by publication. Here are a few of the facts about this process:
- In a traditional divorce, you must serve divorce papers to your spouse and he or she has a specified time to respond or contest your complaint.
- The same is true in a divorce by publication, but personal service does not work when you cannot locate him or her.
- Instead, the Clerk of Court orders a local newspaper to print a legal notice of divorce proceedings referred to as service by publication.
- The publication must run for four consecutive weeks.
- If your spouse has not responded after four weeks, your divorce continues as if he or she waived their right to any further actions, the same as an uncontested divorce.
You should note that under Virginia Law, your spouse can petition the court to rehear the divorce case within one year of service or two years from the date the final divorce decree was entered.
6. Motion for Default Judgment
If your spouse does not respond to service by publication in the time allotted, your next step is to file a motion for default judgement. In legal terms, your spouse defaulted and your motion is the action you need to take for the judge to rule in your favor and grant your divorce. As a result, most parties who file for divorce by publication receive what they ask for in their initial divorce petition. The court cannot divide marital property or make decisions about child custody, alimony, or child support when your spouse has not participated in the process, after all.
Contact a Divorce Lawyer
Regardless of why your spouse is missing, the absence does not have to stop you from moving on with your life. You do not have to sit around to wait and wonder when or if you can get a divorce. Contact divorce expert Michael Ephraim today for legal advice when you cannot locate your spouse and seek a divorce by publication.