No state forces you to remain married just because you don’t know where your spouse is living. New Hampshire law specifies a procedure for filing for divorce if you’ve lost track of your spouse's whereabouts. You'll have to take a few additional steps, but your divorce can then proceed along normal channels.
Complete a petition for divorce. A form is available on New Hampshire’s judicial website. The second paragraph asks you to fill in your spouse’s address. Use the address where you last knew him to be living.
File your completed petition with the superior court in the New Hampshire county in which you live. The court clerk will send correspondence to your spouse at his last known address, advising him to appear at the courthouse to pick up a copy of your petition. He has 15 days to do this.
Return to the courthouse. If your spouse no longer lives at his last known address, he won’t respond to the court's letter. Ask the court clerk for an order of notice, which contains a summary of the information in your divorce petition. It also tells your spouse what he should do to respond to your petition.
Give a copy of your petition and the order of notice to the sheriff in the New Hampshire county where your spouse last resided. A sheriff’s officer will go that address and attempt to give your spouse a copy of your documents. If he’s no longer there, the sheriff will file a statement with the court, indicating this. The sheriff will give you a copy of the statement as well.
Send a copy of your petition and order of notice to your spouse's last known address by certified mail. When he doesn’t sign for it, the postal service will return your mail to you, marked as unclaimed.
File a motion with the court, requesting permission to use an alternate method of service. In New Hampshire, this is service by publication. Motion forms are available on the state’s judicial website. In the first paragraph, explain what you’ve done to find your spouse, including your attempts at service and any other efforts you’ve made, such as contacting his family members. Attach copies of your unclaimed certified mail and the statement from the sheriff.
Take your order of notice to the largest newspaper serving the area where your spouse last lived. You’ll also need a copy of the court’s order allowing service by publication. When a judge approves your motion, the court will send a copy of the document back to you. The bottom half of the page will then bear the judge's signature. This is your order. Give both to the newspaper clerk and run notice of your divorce once a week for three consecutive weeks.
Tips & Warnings
The court might also require you to send a copy of your petition and order of notice to a relative of your spouse. You would also do this by certified mail and include a copy of the mail receipt with your motion.
After you’ve served your spouse by publication, your spouse will have at least two weeks to respond to your petition by filing an appearance document with the court. If he doesn’t do so, you can ask the court to enter default judgment against him and grant your divorce.
References & Resources
- Divorce360: Spouse MIA? Divorce Anyway
- New Hampshire Judicial Branch: Rules of the Superior Court of the State of New Hampshire
- DivorceLine.org: New Hampshire Divorce Procedures
- New Hampshire Judicial Branch: Circuit Court Family Division – Divorce with Minor Children
- Law Offices of Michael Alfano: Filing for a Divorce
- New Hampshire Judicial Branch: Petition for Divorce (PDF)
- New Hampshire Judicial Branch: Motion (PDF)
- Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images