Family Law Questions? Ask a Family Lawyer Online.
Hello. The way a divorce is handled when one party cannot be found is to ask the court to be permitted to serve her by "alternative means" -- publication in a newspaper or two in the various areas where you knew that she had been living over the past 15 years. How you handle this is that you initially file for a "one party" divorce for irreconcilable differences. You then use the last address or addresses that you have for her and send notice of the divorce action via certified mail to those addresses. When the unclaimed letters come back, you (or your attorney) then must file a "Motion to use Alternate Service on Defendant" and in the motion you tell the judge what you have told me here. Then you should name a newspaper of general publication in the area where the last known place of residence was for her and ask the judge to permit you to take out an advertisement in that paper notifying her of the divorce and her right to file an answer in the divorce action in 30 days. After such a lengthy separation with no contact I cannot see any reason why the judge would not permit alternative service in the newspaper. If she does not respond in the 30-40 days after the ad runs in the paper, then you request that the judge grant a "default divorce" -- meaning that you are legally divorced (she simply failed to appear). This process is much simpler for an attorney than having to deal with a long drawn out divorce battle and an attorney should not charge you more than 2K - 3K from start to finish. If you want to attempt to do this yourself, you should go to the nearest family court (clerk's office) and explain the situation to the clerk and ask for appropriate paperwork for a no fault "one party" divorce action (I caution against trying to find forms on the internet from any of those "divorce doc" companies - because the only divorce paperwork that they usually have is the paperwork for two spouses who are in the same state and agree to a divorce - anything more complicated than that and they cannot handle it). Then ask them if there is a family law attorney who volunteers their time through the courthouse to help persons who are representing themselves in court -- most courts have these attorneys, either as a formal program paid for by the state (as in CA) or as a group of volunteer attorneys that revolve in and out of the family court at different hours during the week (like in MA). Working with such an attorney and helping you to prepare and file the paperwork would probably be the best bet for you.
I hope that helps.
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