Info & Advice

How do I get divorced if I don’t know where my husband or wife is?

For a divorce to proceed, the petitioner (who initiates the process) must be able to serve divorce papers on their husband or wife, known as ‘the respondent’. But how do you start divorce proceedings if you are estranged from your partner and don’t know their whereabouts?

Request a Free Consultation with a Solicitor

Why is finding your husband or wife important to the divorce process?

The divorce process, which can be done online, begins with an application and a formal declaration from you as the applicant stating that your marriage has broken down and that one or both parties want a divorce. One spouse or both can do this if a joint application is submitted; you must pay a fee of £593 to the court, and both partners should be aware of the divorce proceedings and acknowledge the application. Therefore, the court requires that your husband or wife is served divorce papers for a divorce to move from the initial application stage and formal agreement to the conditional orders and, lastly, the final divorce orders.

Once the initial application is complete, you will receive a formal notice, a copy of the divorce application acknowledgement stamped by His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), and a case number. The court will then send the divorce petition to your husband or wife via post and email, after which they should acknowledge they have received the application, allowing the divorce process to move on to stage two.

There is a delay of 6 months built into the divorce process to give people time to reconsider, so the time between an application being issued and the time to ask for it to be finalised may feel a pretty long wait.

The next step after issue is to obtain a conditional order of divorce.

The conditional orders of divorce, formerly known as the decree nisi, is a legal declaration that the family court sees no legal reason your divorce should not proceed. However, this step occurs once your husband or wife has acknowledged the divorce petition, and to achieve this and move on to the final divorce orders, you need to know where your spouse is and find an address to send the divorce papers. So how can you move forward and get divorced if you don’t know this essential information? By trying to find your husband or wife’s whereabouts. An excellent place to start is to do your homework and track down a location or contact method for your estranged husband or wife, so you have a place the court can send the divorce petition.

What research can you do to find your husband or wife?

  • Try all previous contact methods you had for them.
  • Ask your husband or wife’s friends and family for contact details.
  • Search online and look at their social media profiles for helpful information.

Although you may not have spoken to your husband or wife for years and are unaware of their whereabouts, you should try to find a contact method so the court can send them the divorce papers. Thankfully, you can do various research yourself to try and track down an address or email, and doing so is an essential step in getting a divorce if you don’t know where your husband or wife is, as you must prove to the judge that you’ve tried to find them to serve the divorce papers.

Firstly, you might still be in touch with or have the contact information of your husband or wife’s friends and family members, who will likely have information on your spouse’s current address, phone number or email address. If you can locate a family member or relative of your husband or wife, this is great, as there are instances when a court will allow a divorce application to be served on your partner’s relative if they are still in contact with them.

The important thing is that the application for divorce needs to come to the attention of the respondent, so it is essential that you can prove to the court that your husband or wife will be made aware of the divorce petition.

We live in a digital world, where almost everyone has a social media profile and shares daily posts and information which can help you find your husband or wife. Information like their current work, last known employer, or at least up-to-date contact details (email address) and a possible city or location, which most Facebook profiles list. The court can serve the divorce application via email, so finding an in-use email address can be enough.

Are there professional agencies that can help find my husband or wife?

Typically, most partners can do in-depth research and find a contact method or address for their estranged husband or wife, but if that personal research doesn’t work, you can approach a professional agency to help you find your spouse. You’ll need to provide basic information, such as your spouse’s name, date of birth, and last known address.    Professionals in this sphere are often called ‘tracing agents’ and are a type of private detective.

Tracing agencies are experts in locating people and have an extensive database to draw from (credit files and government records); working with a tracing agency will cost you an initial sum, a submission fee, and a success fee. But if you’ve tried to find your husband or wife yourself but haven’t been able to, it can be a good option. However, they vary in costs and it is always best to obtain quotes from different agencies and to look at reviews before hiring one.

Applications to help find your husband or wife

Depending on your unique situation, there are different approaches you can take and applications that can be made to help you find an address for your husband or wife. Whether your spouse is living in the UK or abroad and whether they are a foreign national will influence the choice you make.

  • Application for substituted service of the divorce application

Suppose you know where your spouse works or the address of their relatives, then you can request that the court serve the divorce application on them rather than your husband or wife. However, for this method to be used, you must demonstrate to the court that the respondent will become aware of the application.

  • Application for a Disclosure Order from HMRC

If you have not been able to find a relative of your spouse or have no contact with your husband or wife, then you can apply for a Disclosure Order from HMRC, but only if your partner last lived in the UK. To do this, you need to provide basic information such as their full name, date of birth, last known address, and, if you have it, their National Insurance Number (NI). HMRC will then look through their databases to see if they can find an address. If found, they will notify the court, and then the court will send the divorce petition to your husband and wife’s home address. If they do not respond, the divorce process will continue as usual, as the petition has been served.

What to do if you can’t find your husband or wife but still want a divorce?

Suppose you’ve exhausted all options above, done your research, and consulted a tracing agency but are yet to find an address or appropriate contact method for your husband or wife, meaning it has not been possible for the court to serve the divorce papers to your partner, and for them to give their acknowledgement. If this is the case, you can submit an application to dispense with service of the divorce application, and the court will say the service has been ‘deemed’.

Deemed Service Applications

What does ‘deemed’ mean? It simply states that the respondent, your husband or wife, has not answered the divorce petition by filing an Acknowledgement of Service, but a judge has said that you can have a divorce anyway. To apply for a deemed service, as part of the process, you must write a statement and list everything you’ve done (contacted friends and family, searched social media, used previous contact details, asked previous employers…, or used a professional agency) to try and find your husband or wife.

Can I get a divorce if I don’t know where my husband or wife is? Yes!

A judge will be willing to proceed with the divorce and finalise the process if you have shown you’ve done everything you can to try and find your partner. Once this decision is made, the divorce will progress as usual. It is good to keep in mind that the court is not looking for consent from your husband or wife; they simply want evidence that they have received the divorce petition (or you have tried your best to give it to them) and your spouse, is fully aware that you are trying to divorce them.

The divorce process is rarely straightforward, and not knowing your husband’s or wife’s whereabouts can be an added inconvenience on top of an already stressful situation. However, you can still progress with the divorce process and being in this situation will add a few extra court proceedings and costs to the legal process before the court grants you a divorce.

Related Articles

Load More

Podcast: Listen Now