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When a Spouse Cannot Be Found in Missouri
When one spouse wants to call it quits but cannot find his or her missing partner, or when he or she is hiding, divorce by publication comes into play. Divorce by publication happens after a judge has been convinced, based on a sworn declaration, of the serving party's inability to find the Defendant after trying hard. Service by publication is commonly used in a divorce action to serve a spouse who has disappeared without a leaving a forwarding address.
When the Respondent cannot or will not be found (and, therefore, cannot be served personally), the Petitioner must conduct what is termed a "diligent search" followed by Service by Publication.
Missouri's Search Requirements and Process
Missouri courts require a good faith effort by the Petitioner to prove that he or she has made a genuine search for his or her missing partner. This search may entail checking the telephone book and directory assistance in the area where the Petitioner lives as well as in the area where the missing spouse is last known to have lived; asking friends and relatives who might know the location of the missing spouse; checking the post office for any forwarding address; and exploring any other possible sources that might lead to a current address.
In order to be eligible for a "Divorce by Publication", you must complete and submit an Affidavit of Diligent Search to the court. This document clearly outlines all of the actions you have taken to locate your spouse, essentially proving to the court that your spouse absolutely can't be found.
If you actively pursue locating your spouse through the methods outlined in the Affidavit of Diligent Search, and still can't locate your spouse, then a "Divorce by Publication" is your likely method of getting a divorce.
Filing for Divorce by Publication in Missouri
If the search is fruitless, the Petitioner files an Affidavit of Publication, a statement affirming that the Petitioner has made a diligent search for the missing spouse.
When the court is satisfied with the effort, it Issues an Order of Publication, which gives the Petitioner permission to publish a Notice of Publication. The missing spouse then has 45 days from the date of last publication to file an answer. After the 45 days, the courts may grant a default judgment to the Petitioner, but the scope is far more limited than he or she would have gotten had the missing spouse been located and decided not to contest the action. The court cannot do anything other than dissolve the marriage. The court cannot divide marital property, set up custody or visitation, or award child support. This means that in order to proceed in most cases, there must be personal service. There are cases where people have spent thousands of dollars on investigators, process servers and searches to try to find a missing spouse. This can add a significant amount of time and cost to a case.
From start to finish, Service by Publication takes about three months.
Missouri Service by Publication is described in Revised Statues of Missouri §452.300.
Copyright Notice: These Missouri divorce laws above are copyrighted by Divorce Source, Inc. This abbreviated and revised version of the state laws has been compiled from applicable state laws and unauthorized reproduction in any fashion is prohibited. Violation of this copyright notice may result in immediate legal action.