In New Jersey, it is possible to file for divorce even if you are unable to locate your spouse. The process would be easier and less expensive if you could locate your spouse, but you can still obtain a divorce without your spouse if it's absolutely necessary. To do this you will need to take additional steps to prove to the court that you did everything possible to locate your spouse and that you are proceeding without his or her participation only as a last resort.
Initiating the Divorce
Whether or not you know where your spouse lives, every divorce starts with the filing of a complaint, or petition, with the divorce court. This document asks for your spouse's address, but if you do not know where your spouse resides, state that the address is unknown. This puts the court on notice that additional steps will be necessary to proceed with your divorce. If you have questions, ask your local court clerk for assistance.
Serving the Divorce Complaint
Once a complaint for divorce has been filed, the next step is to serve your spouse. This is a requirement to notify your spouse of the divorce proceeding and that he has the right to participate in the process. In traditional circumstances where a spouse's address is known, you can serve the documents personally or by mail. But when you do not know where your spouse resides, you must take additional steps to serve the divorce complaint. In New Jersey, this is usually done by publication.
Service by Publication
When you cannot locate your spouse and need to serve a divorce complaint, you must file a motion with the court for permission to serve your spouse by publication. Before the court will allow you to do this, it will require you to prove that you tried to locate your spouse through "due diligence." You should be prepared to prove that you contacted your spouse's friends, family members and previous employers, as well as social networking sites, yet were still unable to locate him. If the court permits you to serve your spouse by publication, place a legal notice in local newspapers in the area where your spouse last lived. The court will tell you how long to run the notice and if there are any specific guidelines you need to follow.
Once you have fulfilled the court's publication requirements, if your spouse has not come forward, the court will allow you to proceed with the divorce without your spouse's signature or participation. This is a default judgment. It means that you are essentially the only person involved in the divorce process. Although the court will allow you to obtain a divorce decree, it will not generally make decisions with respect to financial aspects of your case, such as the division of your assets and debts. The court will also be unable to rule on issues of child support or visitation. If you proceed with a default divorce and your spouse appears at a later date, it is likely you will need to return to court to deal with those issues.
The Default Hearing
You will be required to appear in court to finalize your divorce at a default hearing. At this hearing, the judge will ask you basic questions such as the date of your marriage, your children's names and ages and your spouse's information. You may also be questioned again about your attempts at locating your spouse. If the court is satisfied that you did everything properly, you will be officially divorced on this day. The court will issue the Final Judgment of Divorce, the document that proves you are no longer married to your spouse. The court retains a copy of this document in case your spouse appears in the future.