To get a divorce in Texas when you don’t know your spouse’s location, you need to file a divorce petition and attempt to locate your spouse with a private process server. Most of the time, it means putting an announcement about the divorce in a local newspaper for a certain amount of time. If the judge is convinced that you made a good faith effort to locate your spouse and they still cannot be found, the judge may grant you a divorce.
The abovementioned process is called a divorce by publication in Texas. The court may allow you to divorce this way if you don’t know your spouse’s whereabouts but you have kids or need to divide property or assets. When filing with no kids or no need for asset division, you can get a divorce by citation.
Can you get a divorce without the other person if they just don’t want to sign the paperwork? Luckily, it is possible through a default process. In this article, you will learn about the divorce options you have when your spouse is missing or unwilling to cooperate.
Proceeding with a Divorce Without Knowing Where My Spouse Is
The good news is that if you want to divorce but don’t know where your spouse is, you can still do it. However, the process of divorcing a missing spouse will differ from an uncontested or even a contested marriage dissolution.
First of all, if you have kids or own a property you have to divide, you may need to hire an attorney to discuss the specifics of your case. They will advise you on the ways of searching for your spouse and will help to prepare all the needed paperwork. The next important thing you should do is start searching for your spouse’s location.
If you have searched for your spouse but got no results, the court may ask you to hire an attorney ad litem to look for them. Such an attorney will likely be appointed by the court, but you will also have to pay for their services. Attorney ad litem acts as an official representative of your spouse who has to do a diligent search for them and protect their right to know about the court case.
After you do a search, you have to provide proof to the court so that the judge can see that you indeed did your best to find your spouse and give permission to publish a notice of a divorce. It is advisable to try as many search options as possible for a judge to grant your request:
- Try to mail the papers to the last known address where your spouse resided. You should do it both by certified and regular mail. It is important to provide written proof that your mailed paperwork was returned to you.
- If you know the last places of work of your spouse, contact the employers, explain the situation to them, and try to get any updated information on your ex.
- Try to get in touch with your spouse’s family members and ask whether they know their location. If the relatives refuse to communicate with you, you still need to have a record that you tried.
- Make a search on the Internet. Also, check social media networks for any information.
- Check the criminal court records. Additionally, contact the Texas Department of Criminal Justice or federal prisons in the chosen locations.
- Search tax listings in a county or counties where your spouse can possibly live. You should also check whether they are registered to vote in those locations.
- In case you presume that your spouse may be in the military, you need to contact the military locator services.
- Make a respondent request on the official website of the Department of Defense.
Even though there is no specific court-approved list of all actions you must take to find a spouse, the judge will consider whether you have done enough. For this, you need to write down all the places you have visited, make a list of people you have contacted to locate the spouse and describe the results you got in each search attempt.
These are the rest of the steps that will help you understand how to divorce someone you can’t find:
- Fill out the papers that are required for your case. Print and sign the forms – notarize them if required.
- File the paperwork with the court. You will need to tell the court clerk that you are filing for a divorce by publication.
- Serve the papers. How to serve divorce papers if you can’t locate your spouse? As soon as you get official permission from the court to serve by publication, you need to publish a notice of the divorce in a local newspaper.
If you are filing for a divorce with no children and have no community property to divide, you can also serve your spouse by posting. Before you proceed, you have to take the same steps as described above and others that you deem necessary to try finding your spouse. Besides, you will have to ask a clerk to post your notice of service for a week (alternatively, it can be a sheriff or a constable) in court. The paperwork you will need for it includes:
- Affidavit for Citation by Posting
- Certificate of Last Known Address
- Motion for Citation by Posting
- Order on Motion for Citation by Posting
How to File for Divorce When Spouse Is Out of State?
If your spouse does not live in Texas, you can still file for marriage dissolution if:
- You meet the 6-month residency requirement of Texas and lived in a specific county where you plan to file for 3 months.
- Depending on the state where your spouse resides, you may be able to file there if it is allowed by law.
Note that while the court may have a right to end your marriage, it might not be able to divide your assets and property or deal with custody. It is crucial that a court has jurisdiction to review such matters, and it’s best to get a consultation with a lawyer if you’re unsure about it.
In order to serve the papers to the second party who is out of state, you need to do the following:
- If your spouse visits Texas from time to time, you may hire a sheriff or a process server to deliver the paperwork to them while they are in the state.
- If your spouse is in another state, you can check the laws of that state or hire a local process server to complete the service.
- If your spouse does not live in the US, you may serve them via diplomatic officials or via the methods adopted by the laws of the country where they reside.
How to Get a Divorce if Spouse Won’t Sign Divorce Papers Texas
There can be a situation when you know where your spouse lives and you keep in touch with them, but they just do not want to sign the paperwork for some reason. How to get a divorce without the other person signing? Here’s what you can do about it:
- Talk to your spouse. The first and easiest option is to talk to the second party in an attempt to convince them to file an Answer. You can tell your spouse that the divorce process can still be continued without them, and they won’t have much control over the result.
- Proceed with the divorce case without the second party. Due to the fact that the unwillingness of one party to sign the papers is not a valid reason for the court not to grant a divorce, your case will still be reviewed. However, it will be the judge who makes the final decision, and it may not be the same sort of agreement you could have reached with your spouse.
- Request a default judgment. If your spouse does not react to the service and provide the answer, you or your lawyer may request to proceed in default. It means that your case can be reviewed and finalized as soon as the 60-day waiting period is over without your spouse’s participation in the final hearing. Moreover, the second party only has 20 days to file the answer with the court. If the deadline is missed, the service is considered unanswered.
You will have to file additional forms in order to request a default judgment hearing. On the day of the hearing, the judge will review all the paperwork you present, ask you some questions, and issue your divorce.
Does Your Spouse Have to Sign Divorce Papers?
Ideally, yes. According to Texas laws, however, a judge can still finalize a divorce without a spouse’s signature by entering a default judgment.
Spouse Refuses to Sign Divorce Papers: Legal Options
Since the Texas court does not recognize the second party’s unwillingness to cooperate as a reason not to proceed with the dissolution case, you can obtain an uncontested divorce without the spouse’s consent.
Here are the solutions that you can opt for when you get a divorce without your spouse’s agreement:
- Default Judgment. If your spouse refuses to sign after being served, you or your lawyer has a right to request the court to issue a default judgment if the mandatory waiting period has passed.
- Mediation. Mediation is the last chance for both of you to come to an agreement before the trial starts. This process involves a third party – a mediator – who will help you reach a consensus without harming each other’s interests. Depending on the situation, meditation can be ordered by the court. Please be advised that you cannot avoid this process if it’s a court order.
- Trial. If mediation did not help you agree on such matters as custody or property division, you would need to go to court and defend your interest with the help of a lawyer. Getting involved in contested trials is a long and expensive process, but sometimes, it is the only way to get a divorce. The judge will review all the evidence provided and hear the testimonies of all parties to reach the final decision.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Get a Divorce Without My Spouse Knowing?
No, according to the laws of Texas, you must serve the divorce documents on your spouse to notify them that the case has been started. If you’re afraid of your spouse for some reason, you can find helpful options here.
How Do You Get a Divorce if Your Spouse Refuses in Texas?
If your spouse refuses to sign the paperwork, you can still get a divorce through mediation, trial, or default judgment.
Can I File for Divorce by Myself in Texas?
Yes, if you have nothing to contest with your spouse, you can file for a DIY divorce in Texas. Even if you don’t know the location of your spouse, you may still be able to proceed on your own, taking some additional steps in an attempt to locate the second party.
Elizabeth Lopez is a former legal assistant and now a licensed social worker with a master’s degree from The University of Michigan. Having over six years of experience in the field, she covers topics on mental health, marriage therapy, and the divorce process. Elizabeth is a regular contributor to divorce blogs like sasforwomen.com and marriage.com and is planning to start her own professional blog.