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Will service by publication work if I can’t locate him?

In general, personal service is required in a divorce case. This means that you must have your spouse personally served, whether that means you hand the paperwork to them yourself, hire the sheriff or a process server, or send it by certified mail.

However, there are times when this just isn’t feasible. Perhaps you and your spouse have been separated for a long time, lost contact, and you don’t know where he is. Perhaps he moved and failed to leave a forwarding address. Maybe he’s couch-surfing and you don’t know where he’s staying or when he’d be there.

In a situation like this, service by publication can be permitted. It’s important to make sure that you do it properly. There are several things you must do to ensure that your service by publication is considered service by the court.

Keep notes on all attempts to find him

Even if you already know that you won’t be able to find him, you must attempt to locate him. Start with the last known address you have for him. Ask friends and relatives for contact information. Contact his last known employer. Exhaust all the options you can think of, and keep notes on all of your attempts. Include names, dates, times, and the result of each attempt – including if someone refuses to give you information on his whereabouts. While you can start looking for him before you file, you want to make sure that your attempts are fairly recent, or the court may make you do it all again.

Ask the court for permission

Once you’ve exhausted all attempts to find your spouse, file a motion asking the court for permission to serve him by publication, which is also known as constructive service. You will include your notes about your attempts to find him, as well as an affidavit indicating that you have tried and failed to locate him. A lawyer can help you with this, if you’re not sure what to do.

If the court denies your request, you’ll need to continue trying to find him. But if the court grants it, they will issue a new summons and give you more time in order to serve him by publication.

Serve him by publication

Each state has different rules for exactly what constitutes constructive service, and you’ll want to make sure that you follow the rules exactly. Most states require the notice to be published in one or more newspapers. They often require it to be published at least two separate times in each newspaper, with a period of time (often about 7 days) between each notice. It usually must be done within a certain period of time from when you’re given permission, as little as 30 days or as many as 120.

What happens next?

Assuming that you’ve properly published the notice to meet the requirements of service by publication, after the appropriate amount of time has passed for you to publish the notices, and the appropriate amount of time has passed for him to respond, the court will move forward with a default divorce.