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I don't know where my spouse is. Can I still get a WI divorce?

I don't know where my spouse is. Can I still get a WI divorce?

Sometimes couples want to live apart but aren’t ready to file for divorce. Over time, people in this situation may move on with their lives and lose touch with one another. If you are no longer in contact with your ex and want to file for divorce, you may be thinking: I don’t know where my spouse is. Can I still get a Wisconsin divorce?

You and your ex may have decided to temporarily separate, hoping to later reconcile. It may also be that one or both of you weren't emotionally ready to end your relationship. Whatever the reason, when you are ready to divorce, not being able to find your spouse can make matters complicated. The good news is that you can still divorce under these circumstances.

Filing for a Wisconsin Divorce

To file for a divorce in Wisconsin, you or your ex need to have:

  • Been a state resident for the past six months, and
  • Lived in the county where the case is being filed for the past 30 days.

As with any Wisconsin legal case, once you file for divorce, you are required to properly serve your ex with your divorce documents. Usually, service occurs when a process server or other qualified individual physically presents copies of filed papers to the other party.

When you don’t know where your spouse is located, it can complicate service. However, just because you can’t locate your ex, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have them served.

Service by Publication

When a party to a lawsuit cannot be located, the filing party can complete service by an alternate means. The filing party will need to give the process server as much information as possible about the individual and where they last resided. If in-person service is still unsuccessful, the filing party may then have the right to serve their spouse by publication. Service by publication involves notifying the other party of legal action by publishing specifically worded information in a newspaper.

If you plan to serve by publication, you will need to be able to show that you have been reasonably diligent in your efforts to locate your ex.

Evidence of your efforts may include actions such as:

  • calling their last job,
  • contacting relatives,
  • searching for them on social media, and
  • attempting to reach them via email and their last know phone number.

Once the court approves your request to serve your ex by publication, you can proceed with publishing notice of the divorce. The law provides that your ex will have a specific amount of time to respond to the published notice. If your ex fails to respond, you may be able to request a default divorce judgment after the state’s mandatory waiting period.

Using service by publication may permit you to complete your Wisconsin divorce. However, the court may be limited in dividing assets and ordering support if your ex is absent and doesn't have sufficient connection with the state.

It’s important to know your Wisconsin divorce options, especially if your spouse is missing. The best way to assess your circumstances and determine your options is by consulting with an experienced Wisconsin divorce attorney. You and your Wisconsin divorce lawyer can discuss your situation and determine your next steps.

Contact an Experienced Wisconsin Divorce Attorney

Attorney and Mediator Karyn Youso of First Look Family Law is an attorney and Mediator with the experience you need to help you with your Wisconsin divorce case. She understands the complexities of navigating divorce when a spouse is unavailable. If you have a divorce case in Metro Milwaukee, Waukesha, or Brookfield, please contact us today and let us take a “first look” at your situation.