At times, rather than file for divorce right away, a couple simply drifts apart. When this happens, eventually each spouse may lose contact with the other spouse. If one of the spouses decides, for whatever reason, that it is time to get a divorce, it can prove challenging to serve the other spouse with divorce papers if the spouse's address is unknown. In these situations, service by publication is possible.
Service of Process
Ohio law encompasses several methods of serving divorce papers. The clerk of court may serve process by mailing it to the defendant by certified or express mail, or by commercial carrier, return receipt requested. Alternatively, the spouse who files for divorce may ask the clerk for personal service on the defendant. In this type of service, the clerk gives the divorce papers to the sheriff or a process server who finds the defendant and hands the papers to him. Another option is residence service, which allows the sheriff or process server to leave the papers with a person who lives in the same residence as the defendant. However, none of these methods of service is useable if no one knows where the defendant is.
Service by Publication
An alternative to these methods of service is service by publication. To serve a defendant by publication, the spouse or his lawyer first submits an affidavit stating that service isn't possible because the defendant's residence is unknown. The affidavit must also describe the efforts made to locate the defendant. In addition, it must include a statement that the defendant's residence cannot reasonably be ascertained. The clerk then posts a notice of the divorce suit in a local newspaper once per week for six weeks. After the last publication, service is complete and the divorce case can proceed.
Alternative Service by Publication
When a person wants to file for divorce but is too poor to pay the filing fee, a court can waive the filing fee. Because service by publication requires a person to pay the newspaper charges for publishing the clerk's notice, a less expensive method of service by publication is available to an indigent person. The person may file the usual affidavit for service by publication with the clerk but add the defendant's last known address. The clerk then posts a notice of the case at the courthouse and in two additional public places. Alternatively, the posting can appear on the clerk's website. The clerk also mails the divorce paperwork to the defendant by ordinary first class mail. Once the notice is posted for six weeks, service is complete.
Not Always Ideal
Service by publication is a last resort for serving divorce paperwork -- and it can present problems. The affidavit describing the efforts made to find the defendant needs to be thorough and correct because it's possible to reverse a divorce based on ineffective service. Further, although a person can obtain a divorce after service by publication, orders for the payment of child support or alimony generally cannot be based on service by publication. If a divorcing spouse wants to request child support or alimony, he should try to find the other spouse before relying on service by publication.