How Do I Get Divorced If I Don’t Know Where My Spouse Is?

Goldberg Jones Divorce 4 Comments

Divorce gets complicated and stressful in short order. There’s a lot to consider. Collaborative divorce, mediation, a do-it-yourself approach. These elements all add unexpected wrinkles. But what if you can’t find your spouse?

Can you still divorce if you don’t know where your spouse lives? How do you end a marriage if you can’t find your soon-to-be-ex?

Luckily, you do have options. 

Fortunately, Washington is a no-fault divorce state. This means the government can’t and won’t force you to remain married. It requires a few additional steps, but it is possible.

How do I divorce my spouse if they are MIA?

Yes, this makes things trickier. Fortunately, you can proceed with a divorce if your spouse is MIA.

In Washington, you first need to initiate a case with the courts. This is the first step no matter the situation.  It’s the next step where things become more complex.

Once you file the initial divorce paperwork, you must serve your spouse. It’s easy to see how one might have trouble with this for a spouse who can’t be found.

Still, you must try.

You need to do your due dilligence in attempting to locate your spouse. diligence. Put in the leg work and make an earnest, good-faith effort. Once you exhaust all possible avenues, then the case can move on.

It’s important here to document your efforts. Collect evidence that you put in the time and work. If you hire a private investigator, keep records. Check their last known residence and last known employers. If you request DMV records, save them. Keep track of all your moves.

You need to prove to the court that you tried.

Related Reading: How Do I File For Divorce In Washington?

Motion to Serve by Publication

After exhausting all possible ways to find your spouse, and documenting your quest, then the time comes to move forward.

If you can’t locate the other party, you file a “Motion to Serve by Publication.” Before you file this, however, the court must approve this measure. Hence, why you need to show that there is no other way.

Once the court gives you the go-ahead, you then place a public notice of your intention in an acceptable outlet. This usually means a local newspaper or one where your spouse was last known to live. Most such publications have a section dedicated to legal notices of this sort.

Once you publish this notice, if you still receive no response, you move on by filing a “Motion for Default.”

Related Reading: Jurisdiction: Where You File For Divorce Matters

Motion For Default

When you can’t find your spouse, this is the next step. If the court grants your Motion for Default, that essentially means they grant all your requests. You generally receive everything you asked for in the original divorce petition because no one showed up to oppose it.

Even though this sounds fairly straightforward, you still may want to consult a divorce attorney. They’ll guide you through the process and make sure you check off all the right boxes.

You don’t want to put in a ton of effort only to have a judge deny your motions. Or worse, do a half-hearted search and have your spouse show up at the last minute to derail your plans.

Like most things in divorce, if you’re going to do it, do it right the first time. The effects of ending a marriage last for years, if not longer. This isn’t the time for haphazard shortcuts.

Related Reading: My Ex Won’t Follow The Divorce Agreement

flag photo credit: Mike Gonzales CC BY-SA 3.0

Comments 4

  1. My spouse is somewhere in Germany last I heard. We have been separated for 19 years and I have made 2 attempts to get a divorce. I am not sure what to do.

    1. Post

      That’s a tough situation, Tammy, thanks for reaching out. It’s a lot to get into here, but I passed your contact information along to our managing attorney, Ken Alan, and he should reach out to you with some ideas of how to proceed. Thanks!

    1. Post

      Hi Michael, thanks for reaching out. There’s quite a bit that goes into this. It can be tricky. I passed your contact information along to Ken Alan, our managing attorney. He will contact you soon and let you know how to begin the process.

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