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

When you initiate the legal process of divorce, one of the first procedural steps required by law is to serve your spouse with the divorce papers you filed with the court. Typically, this is accomplished by personally serving your spouse, by mail, or by having the civil Sheriff’s office serve the papers. What happens though if you do not know where your spouse is living or working when you file for divorce? The Murfreesboro family lawyers at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby explain how a Tennessee divorce works if you are unable to locate your spouse.

Divorce Basics

To dissolve your marriage, you must follow the procedural requirements established by the State of Tennessee. To initiate a divorce, that means you must file a Complaint for Divorce along with a Summons with the appropriate court. The Complaint includes basic information about the Plaintiff (the spouse filing the divorce) and the Respondent (the other spouse) as well as about the marriage and separation. You will also indicate whether there are children of the marriage and what grounds you are using for the divorce. Tennessee is one of many states that allows both no-fault and fault divorces. To comply with the procedural requirements for a divorce, you must provide the Respondent with notice that the proceedings have been initiated by serving him/her with the documents filed with the court. To proceed with the divorce, the court must be satisfied that the “service” requirement has been met. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including the Respondent’s signature on a document indicating that he/she has accepted service and by an affidavit signed by a process server or the civil sheriff indicating that the Respondent was served. 

What If I Can’t Find My Spouse?

The service requirement can present a problem if you do not know where your spouse is living or working when you file for a divorce. This happens more often than you may imagine. Sometimes a spouse outright abandons the marriage by taking off and effectively disappearing. In other situations, the spouse filing for divorce may know that the other spouse is still living in the same city but not have current contact information. The good news is that you can still get divorced in Tennessee even if you cannot find your spouse by using the “service by publication” option.

How Does Service by Publication Work?

Service by publication is exactly what it sounds like. You can “serve” your spouse with the divorce Complaint by publishing it in a local newspaper; however, you must first convince the court that service by publication is warranted, and you must follow the applicable rules for using this method of service. 

To be allowed to use service by publication you must file a Motion for Service by Publication with the court. You will need to include an affidavit, signed in front of a notary, indicating what efforts you have made to locate your spouse. You cannot simply avoid using traditional methods of service. The court typically wants to know that you have proactively done things to try and find your spouse such as attempting to contact family members, calling your spouse’s last known employer, and checked with places such as the Department of Motor Vehicles to try and locate your spouse. You may be required to answer questions at a hearing to convince the judge that service by publication is necessary. If the judge is convinced, an Order will be entered allowing you to proceed with publication.

Once the Order is entered, the publication must begin within 20 days in a local newspaper. Your spouse has 30 days to file an Answer with the court after publication is complete.  If no Answer is filed, you may request a final hearing 60 days from the date of publication. 

Contact Murfreesboro Family Lawyers

If you have questions or concerns about divorce in Tennessee, contact the Murfreesboro family lawyers at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby as soon as possible to discuss your options by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.

Dinah Michael