What to Do When Your Spouse Is Missing and You Want a Divorce

We often get asked the question, "How do I file for divorce if I don't know where my spouse is?" The truth is, you can file for a divorce or other family law action if you don't know where the respondent is (or how to reach them), but – you guessed it – it's more complicated.

In virtually every state, if you're the petitioner seeking divorce, the court requires you to serve (deliver) divorce forms on your spouse. This requirement prevents one spouse from divorcing the other without their knowledge. If your spouse is willing to sign a waiver of formal service, you're good to file. If not, you'll likely have to jump through a few hoops, especially if your spouse cannot be located.

Watch: My Spouse Won't Participate in Our Divorce, Now What?


Tips for finding a missing spouse

Google your ex 

You never know what an internet search might reveal. A personal or professional blog could have information about their location. You might find images of them or social media accounts with helpful information. You could also search for their family members via real estate sites like or

Search social networking sites

Check for your ex and people they're related to on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Sometimes, their locations are listed, or you can message them to make contact. You might also find photos of places they frequent that you (or a registered process server) can track down.

Send a letter to your spouse's last address

Be sure to write "Return service requested, do not forward" on the envelope. If your ex filed a change of address form with the USPS, you should get the letter back with their new address.

Call 411

Sometimes, if you call the city where you think your ex lives or works, you may be able to get a phone number or address by calling 411.

Try online telephone directories or a reverse telephone number directory

If you know their phone number, try to get the address from a reverse telephone number directory.

Contact relatives or friends

Call, write, or email your spouse's relatives, and ask if they would be willing to share any contact information with you. Or, ask them to contact your spouse on your behalf. The worst that could happen is that they could ignore you or refuse to give you information.

Try past employers

Contact your spouse's past employers to see if they have any information regarding their whereabouts or a name or address of a new employer. It's worth a try!

Search property records

You can do this at a tax assessor's office or county registrar or recorder's office.

Consider using a paid internet site that searches for people

The more info you have – name, date of birth, Social Security number – the more likely the results are to be accurate. Try looking up potential aliases as well.

Contact a private investigator, or be your own detective

Even if you don't know where someone lives, you may know where they frequent or know their habits. Do they go to a certain bar? Gym? Coffee shop? Remember, you can't serve your spouse yourself, but you can have a friend, family member, or registered process server help you track someone down.

Ask a consulate (if they are in another country)

Check prison or jail information systems

Search databases where your ex may be on the incarcerated list, or search the Federal Bureau of Prison's Inmate Locator Database. Make sure you have their proper name and date of birth.

Get a motion granted, and serve by post or publication

The most extreme, or last-resort, way to serve a spouse who is missing or unreachable is called service by notice or publication. You can only use this approach if you can prove you have exhausted almost every imaginable way of finding them. And you'll likely have to prove your efforts to a judge, so it's by no means an easy process. It's far better to at least know where your spouse is, even if they aren't complying. That way, you can enforce court orders such as a child or spousal support.

If you decide to proceed with a service of notice or publication, you'll have to file a motion to do so with the court. The court is more likely to grant you this option if you have documented every attempt you already made to find or contact your spouse. Keep notes and evidence of your attempts. The court will want to see it.

Proceed with your divorce

If you cannot locate your spouse, or if they refuse to participate in the divorce proceedings, the process you go through will be known as a "true default" divorce in most states. This is more of a hurdle than other types of divorce, but it's not impossible. You can't be forced to stay in a marriage you don't want to be in. But the fact is, it'll take more of your time and effort to get things done if your ex is not cooperating.

Need more help? Consider enlisting the help of a process server in your area. If you need legal consultation, you can read about our hourly attorney appointments here.