If you file a complaint for divorce, your spouse has the right to respond to the complaint. But what if he's missing or hiding from your divorce action? Depending on the circumstances, after a period between 30 and 90 days and a good-faith search for your spouse, you can ask the court for an Order of Default, which will move the divorce process forward without your spouse's input.
Starting the Process
The first step in the Maryland divorce process is to file a Complaint for Absolute Divorce. You may attach requests for alimony and child support. Once you file the Complaint and pay the filing fee, the court will return a Writ of Summons which you must serve on your spouse. You can't serve the summons personally; instead, you must use a third-party process server over the age of 18. Once she serves your spouse, you must submit an Affidavit of Service to the court which asserts that your spouse was served.
Once your spouse has been served, she can file an answer which admits or denies the claims in the complaint. If she lives in Maryland, she has 30 days to answer the complaint. If she's out of state, she has 60 days. If she's out of the country, she has 90 days. If your spouse has been served and fails to respond in this time period, you may go ahead and request a default judgment of divorce from the court. But if you were unable to find your spouse to serve her with the complaint, you must make a diligent search to find her before you can request a default judgment. A diligent search may include serving their summons again via certified mail; contacting your spouse's relatives; asking the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration for a current address; and even publishing a notice in Maryland newspapers. The court may require proof that you took reasonable steps to search for your spouse.
Order of Default
If she fails to respond during the required period, you can then file a Request for Order of Default with the court. This request must be accompanied by an affidavit that your spouse is not in military service (military divorce is a different process). If you have complied with all requirements, the court will grant you an Order of Default. This Order allows you to File a Request for Hearing or Proceeding, which asks the court to set a date for the divorce hearing.
If you have a valid Order of Default, the hearing can take place even if there's still no sign of your spouse. You must bring evidence of any assertions made in your Complaint for Absolute Divorce, as well as a witness who will corroborate your claims. You must also bring a copy of your marriage certificate. After hearing your claims, the court will issue its findings and recommendations. These recommendations are then incorporated into the Divorce Decree, which is mailed to both you and your spouse within several weeks.
References & Resources
- Matney Law Firm: Maryland Divorce Law: Grounds for Divorce in Maryland
- Maryland State Courts: Complaint for Absolute Divorce: Instructions for Completing Dom Rel 20
- The Law Offices of James E. Crawford: Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
- Jimeno & Gray: Understanding the Basics of Divorce in Maryland
- WomansDivorce.com: How to Serve Divorce Papers
- Maryland State Courts: Request for Order of Default
- Maryland State Courts: Divorce
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images