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How do you divorce a missing spouse?

To get a divorce, you have to serve your spouse with notice that you intend to obtain one, but that isn't always an easy task. If your spouse picked up stakes and moved on without leaving a forwarding address, what can you do?

1. Do your best to locate your spouse

You can't resort to a backup method of notification under Illinois law until you can show the court that you've made a diligent effort to find your spouse -- even if he or she doesn't want to be found.

This includes things like:

  • Doing an online search for your spouse's address.
  • Trying to contact your spouse through social media.
  • Contacting your spouse's known relatives or friends.
  • Checking your spouse's last known place of employment.

Exactly what you have to do to satisfy the court will vary on your particular situation -- but you generally need to establish that you have genuinely tried and aren't just looking to skirt the normal notification procedure for some reason.

2. Serve notice of the divorce by publication

The law takes into account the fact that people can -- and do -- regularly disappear when they're in an unhappy marriage, and they don't always tell others where they're going. That's why "notice by publication" is considered a reasonable substitution for personal service when a spouse can't be located.

This essentially requires you to publish all of the important information about the divorce petition in your local newspaper well in advance of your actual divorce hearing. If your spouse still doesn't surface, the judge can issue a default ruling granting you a divorce.

Even so, divorcing a missing spouse can still be complicated in other ways -- especially if there's property to be divided or a child in the picture. If you're faced with a decision about divorcing a spouse that has abruptly abandoned your marriage, talk to a divorce attorney about your options.

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