In order to get a divorce, you have to personally serve your spouse with the Petition for Divorce. If you don’t comply with the service requirements, your divorce case can eventually be dismissed from Court and you may have to start over.
So what do you do if you don’t know where that spouse is? Believe it or not, this is a relatively common problem. Often, couples separate years before one or the other actually wants to go through with a divorce. It is common for couples to put off getting a divorce for many reasons, but most often it is either for financial reasons, or simply out of convenience. Generally, until one party wants to re-marry, many people don’t feel a sense of urgency in getting a divorce, so people part ways and frequently lose all contact. Many times, a married couple will not speak for years and honestly not know where their spouse is to serve with divorce papers. This won’t prevent someone from getting a divorce however. The law has developed ways for people to get a divorce even if they legitimately cannot locate their spouse, but it is not always easy.
Because you are required to personally serve your spouse with the divorce Petition, you bear the burden of proving to the Court that you have diligently tried to find your spouse, and cannot. You will need to show that you have made reasonable attempts to contact friends and family, tried last known addresses and phone numbers, and still cannot contact your spouse. Additionally, if you know where your spouse is and can prove that they are actively avoiding being served, the Court can waive the personal service requirement. Once you have proven that your spouse is either avoiding service, or that you are unable to locate them, the Court can grant you permission to serve your spouse by “alternate service,” which can have several forms. Utah Rules of Civil Procedure state that the Court shall order service of process by “means reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise the interested parties . . . to the extent reasonably possible or practicable.” U.R.C.P. 4(d)(4). Courts have permitted service by social media and email, but the most common is service by publication.
Once the Court has granted you permission to serve your spouse by publication, they will specify how often and for how long you need to publish the notice. Once you have completed the requirements the Court set out, you will be considered to have properly served your absent spouse and can proceed with the divorce. Asking the Court for permission to serve your spouse by alternate means can be a difficult, and fact specific problem. Please consider consulting an attorney to help you navigate your divorce, especially if you believe you will have issues serving your spouse.