Years ago, a court could not end a marriage unless both spouses agreed that the marriage should end. Is it still that way today? Is there any way to get a divorce in Sugar Land, TX or Houston, TX if your spouse is nowhere to be found? Divorce lawyers answer in this comprehensive guide of what to do if you want a divorce but don’t know where your spouse is.
Divorce Lawyers Answer: Can You Still Get a Divorce in Houston, TX or Sugar Land, TX If You Can’t Locate Your Spouse?
Yes, you can still get a divorce in Houston, TX or Sugar Land, TX if you can’t locate your spouse. However, there are certain steps you have to take, including making a reasonable effort to find your spouse. Here’s a step-by-step guide:
File Divorce Papers
Even though the court no longer requires your spouse’s consent for a divorce to occur, you still need to file a divorce complaint or petition with the court. Depending on your unique situation, you may need to file no-fault divorce papers or fault divorce papers. Here’s a brief overview of the difference between these two documents.
No-Fault Divorce Papers
No-fault divorce papers are a petition to divorce with nobody to blame for the divorce. In other words, it’s not your spouse’s fault that you’re filing for divorce, and your spouse doesn’t blame you for the dissolution of your marriage either. What you’re telling the court when you file no-fault divorce papers is there is an irreconcilable incompatibility that makes the continuance of your marriage impossible.
Fault Divorce Papers
If you are filing fault divorce papers, you are claiming to the court that marital misconduct occurred. To be clear, something doesn’t have to be illegal to be considered marital misconduct. For example, in Texas, adultery is legal, but you can still file fault divorce papers citing infidelity as the grounds for divorce.
If you go this route, whether you’re claiming adultery, desertion or abandonment, sexual abuse, financial abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, or something else, you will probably end up with more of the community estate.
Try to Find Your Spouse
Once you have filed divorce papers with the court, the next step in the divorce proceedings is to try to find your spouse. Your spouse must be served before further steps can be taken. A spouse can be served with divorce papers via your local sheriff’s department or through a private company. However, it is rare for a sheriff’s department to accept this job without a current address.
Ask friends and family members if they know where your spouse is staying or working if you can’t track them down yourself. If this is in vain, take a look at your budget and see if you can afford a private investigator to track your spouse down. If you can’t afford to gamble on a professional that may not be able to deliver results, you have other options.
Tips for Finding Your Spouse
Once you’ve tried calling or texting your spouse’s friends and family members, you may feel like you have no choice but to hire a private investigator. However, you may have luck finding your spouse by visiting their last known place of employment. Even if they are no longer working there, their former employer may know where they are currently living or working.
Newspaper Publication Service
If you have made a diligent effort to find your spouse to no avail, you can place a notice in a newspaper. When you file your divorce papers with the court, ask if there is a form you need to fill out to request service by publication. If there is, follow all of the instructions on the form exactly.
Typically, you will need to pay for a three-week ad in the local newspaper printed and circulated closest to the last known address of your spouse. Note, a divorce lawyer may be able to help you recuperate the cost of paying for the advertisement during your divorce proceedings. Also, be aware that there is precedent in Texas to notify your spouse of the divorce via social media, like Twitter or Facebook, or e-mail.
Courthouse Posting Service
It is more common to serve your spouse via newspaper ad than courthouse posting. However, it is possible to post a notice at the courthouse located the nearest to the last known address of your spouse. If you’ve already made a good-faith attempt to find your spouse, ask the court how you would go about posting service when you file your divorce papers.
The next step in divorcing a spouse that can’t be found is certainly one of the hardest. You have to wait. According to Texas law, after serving a notice of divorce, you must wait until the Monday after 20 days following the notice.
What Happens If Your Spouse Doesn’t Respond
If your spouse doesn’t file a claim with the court, you may request a default divorce. As long as your requests are reasonable, there is a good chance the divorce will be granted. However, if there are children who are minors involved, the court will take a closer look at your unique circumstances before making any decisions on child support or custody.
Once the court is ready to grant your default divorce request, you have the opportunity to get a final divorce decree copy. This is highly advisable. Keep in mind that the court may make you draft a “Notice of entry of Judgment” document and mail it to the last known address of your spouse or post it like you posted the notice after filing the paperwork with the court.
What Happens If Your Spouse Responds
If your spouse responds in the 21 to 27 days given to them by the court, the court cannot grant you a default divorce. Instead, you will need to get your case converted to a standard divorce or file your petition with the court again. Keep in mind, even if your spouse responds within the allowed timeframe, you may not need to work out the details of your petition in court.
If your spouse responds to your notice in a timely manner and you know where they are, you can ask them if they will agree to an uncontested divorce. An uncontested divorce is similar to a default divorce in that the process is relatively quick. For an uncontested divorce to occur, your spouse must agree to every request you made in the original petition.
An Additional Note
Even if your spouse does not agree to an uncontested divorce, there is still a chance that you will be able to work out the terms of your divorce without seeing the inside of a courtroom. Ask your spouse if they would be amicable to meet with a mediator. Often, spouses agree to divorce mediation because it can be conducted online.
Hire a Divorce Lawyer Today
Regardless of your situation, it is better to go through the divorce filing process with a divorce lawyer by your side than to try to navigate the murky waters of court alone. If you are ready to file for divorce, even if your spouse can’t be found, we’re here to help. Contact us today at Skillern Firm in Houston or Sugar Land to schedule an appointment.