All divorces are different. While they can progress in smooth, amicable fashion, they also tend to devolve into contentious, bitter courtroom slugfests. How it goes depends entirely on the specifics of your marriage and relationship. All of this, however, presumes that you can find your spouse in the first place. But what if you can’t? Can you get a divorce if you can’t find your spouse?
The short answer is: yes, you can still get divorced even if you can’t find your spouse. However, the process obviously changes if you can’t locate your significant other. Though it’s slightly more complicated, you can dissolve your marriage in Oregon if your spouse fell off the face of the Earth.
Start The Divorce Process
Like with any other divorce, you need to get the process started. First things first, get your hands on the appropriate forms, fill them out, and file them with the proper court. If you can’t find your spouse, the next step to divorce is where things get tricky. But for all intents and purposes, the initial move is the same.
Put In The Time And Effort
The next step to divorce is usually serving your soon-to-be ex and declaring your intention to dissolve your marriage. You see how this stage becomes thorny if you can’t find your spouse. If you don’t know where she is and haven’t heard from her in years, tracking her down may be next to impossible. This is especially true if she left the country or simply doesn’t want to be found.
That said, before you can move on to the next step to divorce, you have to do the legwork and put in a good faith effort to locate her. The court requires proof of a “diligent search,” so make sure to document the work you put in every step of the way.
Tools To Help Find Your Spouse
You have countless tools at your disposal in your search if you can’t find your spouse. What will work depends a great deal on your particular circumstances, but you have places to start. It’s a different situation when someone simply moved away versus when they simply don’t want to be found. And all of this shapes your task.
It may sound simple, but the obvious choices are good places to start. Check out her last known address and the last place that you know she worked. Though she’s not there anymore, but landlords or bosses may have an idea where she went. If you still have contact information for her family or any friends, that’s another place to look.
Technology is a valuable ally, and online tools and resources may yield results. In some instances, a cursory internet search may provide clues or places to look. You can also dig into phone listings in the area where you know she lived. You may want to examine various databases, public court records, and even the Federal Bureau of Prisons. It may also help to look at the DMV, military records, and the Social Security Death Index.
If you hired a lawyer in your case, they may also be able to help if you can’t find your spouse. Odds are they’ve been through something similar before and have tricks and tips. Another avenue is hiring a private investigator. Though this sounds like something out of a TV police procedural, it can provide positive results and solidify for the court that you did everything possible.
When you haven’t heard from your spouse in years and plan to file for divorce, prepare ahead of time and start your search early. Maybe even before filing the paperwork. This keeps the momentum from bogging down and gets you on your way faster. Again, keep records of your efforts, it’s important to show the court you did your best.
Service By Alternative Means
If you find your spouse, great, you can proceed with your divorce as normal. But if you’re reading this, that’s probably not the case. Once you exhaust your options, scour the Earth for your spouse, and prove you did everything you can, the court may allow you to move ahead.
In this case, the next step to divorce is to serve your spouse by court-approved alternative means. This is basically the final legal hoop you have to jump through. It shows that you did the leg work and legitimately tried every possible option. The court must sign off on this measure, which is why it’s vital to document efforts to find your spouse, even if it ultimately proves unsuccessful.
- Service by Publication: One of these alternatives is service by publication. More or less what it sounds like, service by publication means you must release a public notice via an acceptable source. This most often takes the form of a news outlet in the area where your spouse most likely lives. The summons must appear once a week for four straight weeks.
- Service by Posting: Another method is service by posting. In these cases, the court approves displaying the summons in a public area of the courthouse. Visible to as many people as possible, the goal is to make this document accessible to your spouse. This has an advantage over service by publication as posting is usually free.
- Service by Mail: In Oregon, the court may also require you to send a copy of the summons to your spouse’s last known address. If this information is seriously out of date, this may not be an option.
Motion For Default
In most cases, alternative forms of service don’t lead to any significant results, but it does show you tried. And once you do that, it’s finally time to move on to the next step.
After 30 days, if you can’t find your spouse and they fail to respond to the published summons, you can apply for a Motion and Order Allowing Judgment by Default. This says you did everything you could but your spouse didn’t show. By failing to respond, she is in default, and this document asks the court to grant a judgment in your favor.
When it comes to cases where you can’t find your spouse and the court finds her in default, most of the time the filing party gets whatever they ask for. Granted, if you’ve been apart for so long you can’t find your spouse, there probably isn’t much to divide. But now, even without your spouse’s direct involvement, the court is free to split up any shared property, rule on child custody, and the like.
If you can’t find your spouse, your marriage probably isn’t in the greatest shape. Maybe you stayed married because it was easier; maybe you hoped she’d come back and reconcile. A variety of reasons to stay exist, but there are just as many to divorce. Perhaps you want to remarry, or maybe it’s finally time to move on. Whatever the motivation, when you can’t find your spouse, it complicates the divorce process. But it is still possible. You just have to check off a few more boxes along the way.