By Jordan Levey
Can I still get divorced if I don’t know where my spouse lives?
Yes. You can still get divorced if you are estranged from your spouse, but the process is somewhat different than if you know where your spouse resides. Once you file for divorce, the first step is to ask yourself if you have any way of locating your spouse. Are you in contact with any of your spouse’s friends/family? Can you find information about your spouse’s whereabouts from the internet or public records? What was your spouse’s last known address? IL law requires you to make a good faith effort to locate your spouse before pursuing other options.
What are the steps of the process?
If, after a diligent search, you are still unable to determine where your spouse is residing, then you need to serve him/her by publication. You will need to complete an Affidavit certifying that you cannot find your spouse after diligent inquiry. A public notice will be published, notifying your spouse of the pending divorce proceedings. You will receive a Certificate of Publication, confirming that the public notice was published. There is a cost for service by publication, but in some cases you may request that the publication fees be waived.
The publication will run for three weeks. After that, your spouse has 30 days to file an Appearance or otherwise respond. If your spouse doesn’t respond or file anything within 30 days after being served by publication, then your spouse is in default and you may proceed with your divorce. You will need to schedule a “default prove-up,” which is the court date on which you will finalize your divorce (See: 9 Things You Need to Know About a Prove-up).
How is a Divorce by Publication different?
In order for the Court to make determinations regarding finances and property division, the Court needs to have jurisdiction over you and your spouse. Jurisdiction means the power to make legal decisions. When you file for divorce, you are submitting to the Court’s jurisdiction. In order for the Court to have jurisdiction over your spouse, then your spouse needs to be personally served with the divorce papers and/or submit to the Court’s jurisdiction by filing an Appearance or some other pleading/response. If you serve your spouse by publication and proceed with a Default Divorce, then the Court does not have jurisdiction over your spouse. This means that you can still finalize your divorce, but the Court will not have jurisdiction to make determinations regarding some of the issues in your case (like spousal support, property division, etc). The Court will grant your divorce and reserve those issues.
If you truly do not know your spouse’s whereabouts, then it is possible to get divorced. However, you should first use all available resources to make a good faith attempt to locate your spouse. If after diligent inquiry you cannot personally serve your spouse, then you will need to follow the above steps to serve your spouse by publication and proceed with a default divorce.