How do I file for a divorce in Georgia when I do not know where my spouse lives?
Over the years as divorce attorneys in Atlanta, we have received several calls from both women and men in which they want to file for divorce, but they are not sure where their spouse resides. In many cases, he or she has been separated from their spouses for years. Since they did not keep in touch with their spouse, they do not know where their spouse currently resides. There are several reasons why one of the spouses contacts our office for a divorce after so many years. One of the major reasons is miscommunication. When the spouses separated, one of the spouses believed that the other spouse filed for divorce even though they never received any paperwork from the court. Also, the parties may lead such busy lives that either one of the parties may have simply forgotten to file for divorce. There is usually some upcoming event, which causes one of the spouses to have to finally file for divorce. In some cases, one of the spouses is getting remarried and they need to be legally divorced prior to the date of their wedding.
Even though you may not be aware of your spouse’s whereabouts, a judge will still grant a divorce in Georgia, but in most cases, there is additional time and money involved. Before an attorney drafts any of the pleadings, you must provide as much personal information about your spouse, such as his or her last known address, his or her social security number, his or her full name, or his or her date of birth. The more information that you provide to your attorney, the more likely that your spouse can be located. Once you provide your spouse’s personal information to your attorney, they can perform a skip trace. In some cases, attorneys have access to public records databases where they can search for your spouse’s current address using his or her personal information. If your attorney does not have access to these databases, they can contact a third-party who can perform a skip trace for you. The third party company, however, does charge a fee to perform a skip trace on an individual. Also, the attorney or their staff can perform a postal trace in conjunction with the skip trace. When you perform a postal trace, a request is sent to the United States Postmaster in the city where your spouse last resided and the Postmaster will provide the attorney with the spouse’s last known address if it is available. The disadvantage of performing a postal trace is that if your spouse did not provide a forwarding address when he or she moved, then the Postmaster cannot provide the attorney with their new address.
The next step is to file the Complaint for Divorce and to send a copy of the Complaint for Divorce and Settlement Agreement to your spouse’s last known address either by certified mail or Federal Express and ask him or her to acknowledge service. In a perfect world, this is the spouse’s current address and they sign the paperwork within a matter of days. Usually, however, this is not the case and your next step is to effectuate service on your spouse by publication. Once your divorce is filed with the Court, you must file a Motion for Publication, which shows the judge all of the attempts that you made to try to locate your spouse. The attorney will attach copies of the documentation, such as the skip trace, the postal trace, and the certified receipt, to the Motion. The judge will review the Motion and if it meets with his or her approval, then he or she will sign an Order granting the service by publication. The Clerk of Court will then send a Notice of Publication to the legal newspaper of the county in which the divorce is filed along with a check from the attorney made payable to the legal newspaper.
According to O.C.G.A. § 9-11-4(f)(1)(C), the notice will be published four times within a sixty day period. Your spouse will have sixty days to respond to the notice. If he or she does not respond, then the judge will grant the divorce. If he or she does respond, however, then the divorce by publication will proceed like a normal divorce. There are several disadvantages to a divorce by publication. First, there are additional costs. Not only do you have to pay publication costs to the legal newspaper, which is approximately $80.00, but your attorney needs to draft additional paperwork. Also, a divorce by publication can take substantially longer than a normal uncontested divorce due to the extra steps that need to be taken. Also, in a divorce by publication, the judge can only grant a divorce and cannot divide property, such as bank accounts, personal property, and real property. If you would like the judge to decide upon any of these issues, then you must locate your spouse and proceed with a regular divorce.