“My spouse left me more than ten years ago, and I have no idea where he is now. How can I get a divorce from him?”
You have to serve him or prove that you tried to do so.
Often, when you cannot locate a former spouse, you can do what is termed “service by publication”. That means you can print the summons in a newspaper. If you go this route, know that it is far less expensive to run the notice in a legal trade publication (like the Daily Journal) than in a larger paper (like the Los Angeles Times). However, courts will require that you have done due diligence in trying to locate your former spouse.
In today’s world of high technology, you may be able to do so with the help of a good investigator. Before you bear that expense, though, check your records. For instance, you may have kept some document that has your ex’s driver’s license number or social-security number on it. There are many fine investigative agencies that can take such information and find your spouse nearly anywhere in the world. Or you may try contacting relatives and friends of your ex, so that he or she may be served.
Before the court may accept “service by publication”, it will first want to see that you have attempted to make reasonable efforts to find your spouse. “Attempt” is key, because in the end, you have to show the court that you have tried to find your ex to get an order that allows you to publish the notice in a newspaper, according to divorce law. Once you receive that court order, you publish it. In most courts, proof of publishing the summons constitutes service. But that is just the beginning: you then need to do all the paperwork and prove up in court your case dealing with assets, liabilities, child support, child custody, etc. There are many tedious steps to go through in this process, and you must be both diligent and patient.
Stacy D. Phillips is a co-founder of Blank Rome LLP, which specializes in high-profile family law matters. She is a Certified Family Law Specialist by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.