How Do I Divorce After Long Separation?

Ask a Lawyer


I have been separated for almost a decade and have no knowledge of my spouse’s whereabouts or contact information. How do I divorce them?


Arkansas attorney Giana M. Messore

I have not been retained as your attorney so I cannot give you legal advice. However, I can offer some general information that may help you.

The first step is to file a “Divorce Complaint” with the court. In the divorce complaint, you will state why you want a divorce. In the state that I am licensed to practice in, Arkansas, you have to prove grounds (or a reason) for a divorce before the court will grant one. Not every state is like this. Some states will grant a “no-fault” divorce. In the divorce complaint you will, also, want to tell the court if there is property or debts to be divided. It is very important to make sure that any issue you would want the court to make a determination on is in the petition.

If it is not in the initial petition, then the court will not be able to make a determination. This will be particularly important for you if it is difficult for you to serve your spouse. To avoid having to file any amended petitions and reserve your spouse, be sure to include any you want (property, debts, child custody, child support, spousal support) in the initial complaint).

After you file the divorce complaint with the court clerk in the county you are living, you will want to serve your spouse. In my state, you have 120 days from the date you file your complaint to serve your spouse. If you cannot serve your spouse within that time period, you will have to ask the court for an extension of time.

I would suggest you call friends or family members of your spouse, if this is feasible, to see if they have a good address for her. This will make the process easier. If this is not an option, then you will want to start preparing yourself for the “warning order” process. In my state, a person can serve another through warning order, which is essentially placing an advertisement in the newspaper that circulates in the county where that person last lived. However, there are steps that you will need to take before you can get a wanting order. This is also a bit longer of a process and can be costly.

It is important to note that this process can be technical and can vary from state to state. If you think you will have to serve your spouse through warning order, I would strongly encourage you to have hire an attorney. However, I have included some general information below on how you would start the warning process if Maryland’s procedures are similar to Arkansas’s.

To start the process, you will have to send the divorce complaint and the summons (which the clerk will issue and give you) and send it to your spouse’s last known address. This will have to be sent certified mail, restricted delivery with return receipt requested. You will want to file the slip the post office gives you with the court showing that you sent it certified mail. If the mail comes back to you, which will likely happen, don’t open it! Make a copy of the “green card” and file this copy with the court. Also, keep the original mailing in case the court wants to see it.

After, the certified mailing comes back, you will be able to file a motion with the court asking to proceed with the warning order process. You will have to sign an affidavit and file it with court stating that you sent the court documents to your spouse’s last known address. This is important because the court is going to want to see that you have made “diligent efforts” to serve your spouse before getting a warning order.

If the court approves your motion for a warning order, it will issue a warning order. You will, then, go to the newspaper and ask that they post it. The length of time it has to stay posted in the paper will vary from state to state. In Arkansas, it has to stay posted in the newspaper weekly for two (2) consecutive weeks. The price will also vary by newspaper.

If your spouse does not respond to the warning order, you will be able to proceed with your divorce. You will just need to show the court that you have tried various efforts to serve her and you could not despite your diligent efforts.

To arrange an initial consultation to discuss divorce rights for men with a Cordell & Cordell attorney, including Arkansas divorce lawyer Giana M. Messore, contact Cordell & Cordell.

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