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Petition for Divorce Paper

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

Curiale Hostnik PLLC  Jan. 16, 2023

The process of filing for divorce in Washington is straightforward but requires a significant amount of work. You must file a petition for dissolution of the marriage, provide detailed information about your marriage, children, assets, and debts, and request a summons to be served on your spouse, along with a copy of the petition, to provide them with notice.  

In your situation, you may be asking, “Can I file for divorce if I don’t know where my spouse is?” 

You can file for divorce from a spouse whose whereabouts are unknown to you, but you will need to go the extra mile to prove to the court that you have done everything you can to serve them. It can pose a challenge for you and your divorce attorney. 

The family law attorneys at Curiale Hostnik PLLC don’t back down in challenging legal situations. We have embraced the complications of helping dozens of clients with “missing” spouses in Tacoma, Washington, and throughout Pierce County, including Puyallup, Lakewood, Gig Harbor, and University Place. Just because you cannot locate your spouse doesn’t mean you cannot move on with your life.  

How Can I Serve Divorce Papers to a Missing Spouse? 

When a case of any kind is filed against someone else in a Washington court, the respondent is entitled to know the petition has been filed and to respond to it. Typically, the petition and summons are served to the respondent personally, either at their home, work, or other location, and a receipt of service is filed with the court. The respondent in a divorce case personally served has 20 days to file a response with the court. Those served by certified mail have 90 days to respond.  

If you do not know where your spouse lives, works, or frequents, service is obviously problematic. However, just as the law requires the respondent to be served, it also permits the case to progress when service is difficult or impossible. You must prove to the court that you have exhausted ways to locate your spouse, such as searching public records, asking friends and family for their whereabouts, or hiring an investigator to find them. At this point, you can ask the court for permission to employ alternative methods of serving divorce papers.  

In Washington, alternative service is publication, either at the courthouse or in newspapers. Where to publish will be based on the last-known whereabouts of your missing spouse. You would choose one or more newspapers in that location to publish public notice of the filing of the petition. Or you would submit a public notice to the clerk of the nearest courthouse to post. Both must be done with the approval of the court. Your spouse would then have 60 days to file a response.  

What If My Spouse Does Not Respond? 

If your spouse does not respond to the summons within the required number of days, you can ask the court for a default judgment. In a default divorce, you will likely receive everything you have asked for in your petition and in other documents filed with the court, such as parenting plans. The court would rule on matters such as child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, and your requested division of marital assets and debts.  

The court may require publication of a notice of default and hearing on these matters, again, to allow your spouse the opportunity to appear. If they do not appear, the judge will likely grant you a default divorce. Again, the court will require that a notice of the default judgment be published. Your spouse would have one more opportunity to respond to the default judgment. 

What If My Spouse Does Respond? 

If at any point of the process your spouse responds to the petition, notice of default, or default judgment, your divorce will proceed in the manner of most divorces. Your spouse could join the petition. You and your spouse could reach agreements regarding child custody, support, and visitation, alimony, and the division of marital assets and debts and ask the court for approval.  

If you and your spouse cannot find common ground, you may be ordered into mediation or present your cases at trial.  

Rely on Experienced Representation 

Everyone deserves to be heard in divorce cases. Everyone also deserves to be able to be granted a dissolution of marriage and begin new chapters in their lives. The inability to locate a missing spouse cannot stand in the way, but it makes the path steeper to climb.  

If you’re facing the challenge of a missing spouse, let the family law attorneys at Curiale Hostnik PLLC make the journey with you. Call our office in Tacoma, Washington, now to schedule a time to discuss your case.