To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, sometimes marriages end not with a bang, but with a whimper. When your former spouse simply disappears rather than stays around to face a divorce, you will not be stuck in a one-sided marriage forever. Even if no one in the world can find your spouse, you still have the ability to petition for and receive a divorce.
Locating a Missing Spouse
In order to start any legal proceeding, including a petition for divorce, both sides of the case have to be notified that a lawsuit (or divorce petition) has been filed against them.
This can be difficult if your spouse does not want to be found. First, you must attempt to serve your spouse with the divorce petition through traditional means like using a process server or the sheriff’s department. If these methods do not work, you may be able to petition the court to serve your spouse via certified mail.
If none of these methods work, you may in rare occasions be able to serve your spouse by publication, meaning that a notice of the lawsuit will be published in the legal notices section of a local newspaper. It is unlikely that service by publication will actually alert your spouse to the lawsuit, however, it is a last-ditch attempt which must be made in order to satisfy Washington law.
Divorcing Without a Response
If your spouse does not receive notice of the lawsuit, or if your spouse is actually served and never files a response, you still have the right to get divorced. A lack of response on the part of your spouse does not mean that he or she is able to stall the proceedings indefinitely.
Instead, if your former spouse never responds to the filing, you may simply win your divorce case by default. The judge in your case will review your divorce petition, look for inaccuracies or problems, and will often simply grant your petition.
Ordering Support from Missing Parents
It may seem pointless to ask a judge to order child support or alimony from a spouse who is either missing or refusing to participate in a divorce. However, the judge has the power to do this, and can also liquidate marital assets that may have belonged to the missing spouse in order to make up for these missed payments. In addition, the obligation to pay child support or alimony does not end simply because the missing spouse is refusing to respond to the court’s orders. Instead, the support obligations will continue to pile up, and when the spouse is eventually found, he or she may owe a significant amount of money in back payments.
Whether a spouse is attempting to avoid service, refusing to participate in the case, or simply cannot be found, his or her absence can cause problems in a relatively simple divorce.
At Pacific Northwest Family Law, we understand that you have more important things to do than worry about the location of your ex. By hiring an experienced divorce attorney, you can relive yourself of this burden, and focus on the things that matter. We will help you put the past behind you by either finding your spouse, or creating a divorce petition that will stand up in court in case he or she ever returns.
For a consultation with one of our experienced Washington divorce attorneys, contact us today by calling 360-926-9112.