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How to Pursue a New Jersey Divorce When Your Spouse Is Missing

With some regularity, a person desires a New Jersey divorce but has no idea where his or her spouse is located. The fact that you cannot locate your spouse at this time does not prevent you from proceeding with a divorce. Indeed, if your spouse has abandoned you, that can form a basis for seeking an end to your marriage in the first place. There are some specific steps you need to take in order to proceed with a divorce in New Jersey when you cannot locate your spouse. These steps are discussed in this article:

  • Good faith search, due diligence, and your missing spouse
  • Affidavit of Diligent Search
  • Alternative forms of service on missing spouse
  • Substituted service on a special agent
  • Service by publication
Defendant in Divorce: Right to Notice and Opportunity to Be Heard

The reason a good faith effort must be made to find the spouse is because that individual does have rights in divorce proceedings. Specifically, even a missing spouse has the right to notice and an opportunity to be heard. A reasonable effort must be made to advise that individual that a case is pending.

Good Faith Search, Due Diligence, and Your Missing Spouse

In order to proceed with a New Jersey divorce when your spouse is missing, you have the obligation to demonstrate to the court that you exercised due diligence in attempting to locate that individual. You cannot merely show up at the courthouse, shrug your shoulders, and advise the court that you just cannot find your spouse.

A good faith effort at finding your spouse so that divorce papers can be served on that individual must be demonstrated to the court. A New Jersey divorce court’s consideration of whether due diligence has occurred in seeking the location of a purportedly missing spouse can be rigorous. Examples of the steps that you must consider taking as part of a good faith effort to find your missing spouse include:

  • Contacting your spouse’s last known employer
  • Contacting your spouse’s relatives
  • Contacting your spouse’s friends
  • Search social media and elsewhere on the internet
  • Obtain voter registration information from the county where your spouse was last known to reside
  • Obtain a post office address search
  • Obtain legally available information from the Division of Motor Vehicles
  • Inquiry to branch of military in which spouse served
  • Obtain a professional skip trace search

New Jersey divorce courts have available specific forms for use by a person seeking a divorce from a missing spouse. These forms are to be used when seeking information from one or another of the resources listed a moment ago:

  • Inquiry letter to family, friends, employer – Form 9
  • Inquiry letter to the Division of Motor Vehicles – Form 9A
  • Inquiry letter to post office – Form 9B
  • Inquiry letter to military branches – Forms 9C through 9H

These inquiry letters do not need to be sent by any form of special delivery. They can be sent using regular first-class mail.

Affidavit of Diligent Search

Three weeks after the various inquiry letters have been sent out by the plaintiff in a New Jersey marriage dissolution case, that party to the proceedings can file what is called an Affidavit of Diligent Search. This is a document detailing what steps the plaintiff has taken to find the missing spouse. The document details the inquiry letters that have been sent and the response received in regard to them, if any.

Alternative Forms of Service on a Missing Spouse

New Jersey law establishes a pair of different options to serve a missing spouse in a divorce case:

  • Substituted service on a special agent
  • Service by publication

These are each discussed in greater detail in this article.

Substituted Service on a Special Agent

Substituted service on a special agent allows a plaintiff to have the divorce complaint and other paperwork served on an individual the plaintiff knows is in contact with the named defendant in the case. Odds are strong that such a person who has provable contact with the defendant might not be found.

Service by Publication

Service by publication is permitted by the court when no other means exist of serving the complaint and associated documents on the defendant. This involves the publication of a notice of the pending divorce in a newspaper of common circulation in the county in which the defendant was last known to reside. The newspaper will provide an affidavit confirming the publication of the divorce notice. Call us today for a consultation at 201-845-7400.

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