Divorce if Whereabouts Are Unknown in Missouri

by Victoria McGrath
Post a notification of your pending divorce in the local newspaper.

Post a notification of your pending divorce in the local newspaper.

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Many spouses who want to file for divorce do not know where to find their estranged spouses. In these cases, locating a spouse to serve divorce papers becomes more difficult with time. If you wait too long to file for divorce, it may be impossible to locate your missing spouse. For the court to grant a dissolution of marriage, you must be able to serve your spouse the divorce papers or, at minimum, prove to the court that you made diligent efforts to locate him. After you have exhausted all possibilities to locate your spouse for a divorce in Missouri, you may request "Service by Publication," commonly referred to as a "Divorce by Publication."

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Service by Publication Requirements

When you fill out your Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, you must complete a section entitled “Directions for Service on Respondent.” In this section, you tell the court how you plan to serve your spouse the divorce papers and inform him of the legal proceedings. If you do not know the whereabouts of your spouse, you select the appropriate box at the bottom of the available options. When you check the box, you affirm that you do not know the whereabouts of your spouse or have any way to contact him. You confirm that you have made an effort to locate him and have been unsuccessful in your efforts. Based on these facts, service by publication is required and therefore requested.

Service by Publication Request

When you submit your Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, attach a copy of an “Affidavit for Service by Publication” to your petition. Also, complete Form CAFC712, Request for Service by Publication. Provide your personal information and the information required for service by publication. By law, the court can only grant your request for divorce by publication if you prove that you have exhausted all possible means to locate your spouse. The Request for Service by Publication form lists several ways for you to find your spouse. It requires you to check all of the boxes that apply; each box includes a statement about the actions you have taken to locate your spouse. If you do not check all the boxes, it will appear that you have not conducted a thorough search.

Attempts to Locate a Missing Spouse

The court looks into your attempts to locate your spouse. It considers: your efforts to contact family and friends and ask them about your spouse’s whereabouts; your searches in telephone books; your Internet searches for your spouse’s name, telephone number and address; your communication with your spouse’s former employers; and any attempts to serve the papers on your spouse personally or by publication. You must inform the court of the last time you saw or talked to your spouse in person and divulge any known email addresses or mobile phone numbers used by your spouse.

Publication of Notice

Under Missouri law, notification of the divorce must be published in the county where the divorce has been filed. Service by publication requires you to post a notice regarding the pending legal action in a local newspaper or publication in general circulation. Depending on where you file, the publication may be in the local vicinity of your spouse’s last known whereabouts or in your local area, neighborhood or city. You submit a copy of the published notification to the court. If you provide the clerk with your spouse's last known address, the clerk will send a copy of the notice of publication and your petition for dissolution of marriage to your spouse at that address after 10 days.

Judgments in Missouri

A divorce by publication takes at least 45 days for the court to finalize. If you obtain a divorce based on service by publication, the court grants only a dissolution of the marriage. Under Missouri law, it cannot issue any judgments that pertain to financial matters, such as child support or spousal support. If you seek an award of child support or spousal support, you must be able to serve your missing spouse the divorce papers by the traditional service of process. The most common forms of service in Missouri include personal service and service by mail, in the latter case the respondent submits an Acknowledgment of Service by Mail to the court.