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  • Writer's pictureJames Chau

Can you still get divorced if you cannot locate your spouse?


There are situations where a person has no idea of the whereabouts of their spouse. It could be that the couple has separated and moved on with their lives without finalizing their divorce. Eventually, one spouse decides to move away and leaves no notice of where they went or even if they are still in the state or country. In other cases, it could be that a spouse just left and walked out of their family’s lives. In cases like this, the spouse that left will attempt to cover their trail so they cannot be found.


When a spouse cannot be located, many people may think they are stuck being married, leaving them in limbo and unable to remarry legally. If you cannot find your spouse, it is still possible to obtain a divorce. But you will have to put in extra work, and the expenses will potentially be higher. The bottom line is getting a divorce is still possible, and here are some tips for effecting proper service on your ex-spouse.


The first step is to do a diligent search for your spouse. This first step can take some time and effort. You will need to make an active and good-faith search for your spouse and document the actions you have taken in your search. Some of the things you will need to do include, but are not limited to:

  • Search the phone books of the jurisdictions where your spouse is most likely living and where their last known address was.

  • Contacting people associated with your spouse, including family, friends, co-workers, business partners, landlords, and other known acquaintances.

  • Checking with the post office to see if they had set up a forwarding address.

  • Checking tax records, voter registrations, DMV records, and auto registrations.

  • Hiring a private investigator

After a diligent search has been completed and the proper forms have been filed with the court to show what steps you have taken in your search, you may apply for a court order to effect Service by Publication or Service by Post.


“Service by publication” means that you publish the Summons or other document in a newspaper of general circulation in the area where your spouse or partner is likely to be. For service by publication, you will have to pay the newspaper a fee to publish the document. In addition, it will have to be published for four weeks in a row, at least once a week.


While the publication requirement is completed 28 days after the first publication date, if the summons has not been responded to, a Request to Enter Default and Default Judgment for the dissolution of marriage can be filed after the end of the 59th day after the first date of publication.


If approved, the divorce will become final after six months, and one day from the date the summons was first published.


“Service by Post” is an alternative to service by publication. With Service by Post, you may find the location in the courthouse where your message may be posted. The post must be in an area where it is reasonable to assume the missing spouse resides.


For further information on what is required for a Service by Publication or by Post, visit the California Courts website.

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