Is it possible to divorce a missing husband or wife?

There are many reasons why couples drift apart and sometimes the end result is that the couple continues to be married even though they no longer live together and do not consider themselves to be in that relationship anymore. It often happens that neither spouse really cares exactly where the other is until one of them starts thinking about tying the knot again and comes to a realization that there is some paperwork to be done. It is, however, possible to get a divorce or end your civil partnership in England and Wales even if you do not know the whereabouts of your partner.

So what next if you do not know where they are

If you actually have no idea where your spouse is, and hence cannot serve a divorce petition on them, you may apply for the service to be dispensed with and then proceed with the divorce. The process might be considerably faster if you can find their current address and you will be asked to evidence that you have attempted to do so by, for example, contacting their:

  • relatives (including children)
  • friends
  • last known employer
  • a trade union or professional organization
  • hiring a private investigator

If as a result of your searches you ascertain their address, then you are able to contact them and inquire as to whether they would be likely to consent to get a divorce. If they agree, then any proceedings to follow, such as filing the petition and obtaining the Decree Absolute, should be straightforward.

If however, they do not consent, you are still able to proceed if you have been married for over five years and they do not defend the application (as defending would attract a separate fee for them, as well as in reality not many divorce petitions are getting defended after five years of separation).

You will also be asked to pay an extra fee to the court as the court bailiff will need to be appointed to redeliver documents on your partner for further reassurance that they are indeed aware that you are divorcing them.

The current court fee to fill in the divorce petition with your spouse’s current or last known address is £550.

Your petition came unopened

In the circumstances where you are filing your petition knowing that it will perhaps return unopened, you are required to take an extra step before you proceed with the filling. It might be that your estranged spouse had already divorced you without telling you and therefore you need to show to the court that that is not the case. You can do that by applying for a search for a Divorce Decree Absolute at the Central Family Court and once you receive your letter confirming that you are not divorced yet, you may proceed with the actual divorce.

You have now filed your petition and evidenced to the court that you have taken all the reasonable and necessary steps to trace your respective spouse (as mentioned above). Perhaps you have even applied to the court for an order which specifies that the Inland Revenue and the Department for Work and Pensions disclose the missing spouse’s last known address.

Your regional divorce center however comes back letting you know that the divorce petition is returned unopened. If that happens, you might need to try another way for your petition to be served, such as email or asking your regional divorce center to apply for a search of other government departments to get your spouse’s address (attracting further court fee of £50 each).

At that point, the court has the discretion to either grant the divorce or suggest further steps, such as placing a notice in the local newspapers. If further tracing is not successful, then you can proceed with an application for the service to be dispensed with, costing you another £50 court fee. After the court confirms that the service has been dispensed with, you can proceed with your divorce to the final stages.

Only once you obtain your final divorce certificate, called Decree Absolute, you become free to marry again.

For more information, get in touch with us today on 0203 146 3549 / email:


All our articles are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information provided.

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