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Wisconsin Family Law Articles

Divorce When Your Spouse Has Disappeared

The end of a relationship is a difficult time for everyone.  While sometimes people will file for divorce immediately when they separate, this is not always the case.  It is not uncommon for people to delay getting a divorce right away for a variety of reasons, ranging from financial to emotional.  After a period of time, you may have lost touch with your spouse, or he or she may have simply packed up and left town.  Fortunately, it is possible to proceed with your divorce even if your spouse has disappeared- just not a traditional divorce.

Every lawsuit requires that you properly serve the respondent with a copy of the paperwork you have filed with the court, and divorce is no exception to this.  It is necessary that you properly serve your spouse with the divorce papers before you can proceed with the case and get a divorce.  In most cases, this is achieved through personal service, with a professional process server or law enforcement officer physically handing the papers to your spouse.  If your spouse has disappeared, you will need to apply to the court to request permission to complete service through a process called service by publication.  You will need to demonstrate to the court that you have made all good faith efforts to locate your spouse, but have been unable to do so.  These sorts of efforts would include things like calling his or her last phone number, calling his or her last job, looking on Facebook, contacting relatives, and that sort of thing.  If after all of this, you are still unable to locate your spouse, the court will approve your request.  Service by publication means running a specifically worded notice in the paper to attempt to notify your spouse that there is a lawsuit pending.  If after the ad has run your spouse still does not file a response with the court, you can then ask the court to grant you a default divorce.  In a default divorce, as the name suggests, you are granted the divorce by default because your spouse did not show up and respond to your request for divorce.  It is important to understand that there are important time limits for this process, and even if you serve by publication, your spouse will still be given time to respond.  Moreover, you will not be able to get a default divorce before the mandatory divorce waiting period of 120 days has elapsed from the date you published notice of your divorce petition.  Finally, the terms of your divorce (what you are entitled to get for property/support), may also be affected if your spouse is missing or has no ties to the State of Wisconsin.  But you CAN get your actual divorce, even in their absence. We provide Wisconsin with comprehensive family law information so you can take an informed next step.


We have extensive experience assisting clients with all types of divorces. Contact us today for a consultation and we can talk about your first step.

To learn more about Wisconsin divorce law, contact Karyn Youso, the family law attorney and mediator with over 27 years of experience.