How to Divorce a Missing Spouse in Florida
Divorces can be complicated enough; but what happens when your soon-to-be spouse is missing? The reasons behind why a spouse is missing can be many. Notwithstanding, Florida law provides a legal vehicle by which a person can petition the court for a divorce even when their spouse is nowhere to be found.
Service by Publication
Known as “service by publication” or “constructive service”, Florida law allows for a spouse to request a Notice of Dissolution be published once per week, for a total of four weeks, in a newspaper that specializes in legal advertisements. A person seeking divorce from a missing spouse must first file a notarized statement describing what efforts were undertaken to locate the individual. This is known as an Affidavit of Diligent Search. At the same time, the person seeking a divorce in this manner must also prepare a Notice of Action for Dissolution of Marriage (i.e., a summons). If and when the court approves the affidavit, service of publication will result. By law the missing spouse has 28 days to respond. Failure to do so will give the petitioning spouse the ability to file a Motion for Default, which allows the divorce action occur by default.
If the missing spouse has never lived in Florida, the court may require additional publication in the town of the missing spouse’s last known address as well as to the required Florida publication.
While the court has the authority to grant a divorce through a publication action, it may not make any decisions regarding child support, division of property, or time sharing (i.e. child custody).
Diligent Search Requirement
Florida courts require that the person seeking a divorce from a missing spouse undergo a good faith effort to prove that he or she conducted a genuine search for the missing partner. Under state law, a diligent search means a person has inquired thoroughly and followed all leads discovered during this search. Below is a list of actions that Florida courts have found to be reasonable for a person to undertake before filing the affidavit attesting to his or her efforts:
- asking the U.S. Postmaster in the cities where the missing spouse had previously known residencies for forwarding addresses. This information is available under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”);
- searching the phone directories of cities and towns of the missing spouse’s possible residencies;
- searching the public records of the local tax collector and assessor;
- searching the records of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles;
- asking neighbors in the neighborhood where the missing spouse previously lived;
- contacting the missing spouse’s last known employer;
- asking at nearby hospitals where the missing spouse lived; and
- hiring a private investigator;
Divorce Help in Orlando
If you or someone you know is facing divorce, contact an experienced Orlando divorce attorney today learn about your rights and obligations under state law. Divorce can be stressful and complicated, as the law is evolving and each case is as unique as the parties involved. The legal professionals at the offices of Steve W. Marsee, P.A. have years of family law experience guiding clients during this difficult, yet important, chapter in life. Schedule an initial consultation by calling (407) 521-7171 today.