This is the next post in a series of articles discussing filing for divorce in Little Rock, Arkansas when the whereabouts of one’s spouse are unknown. This situation can arise under a myriad of circumstances. Whether a married couple has been separated and out of touch for years or if a partner suddenly abandons his spouse with no forwarding address, the spouse desiring a divorce can obtain one in Arkansas. My previous post provided an overview of the topics to be discussed throughout this series. In this post, I will outline the process for pursuing a divorce under these circumstances. Divorce may impact many areas of one’s life, including the division of property, child custody, and support. It is important, therefore, to consult with an experienced attorney to understand your rights. If you need assistance, contact my office today to speak with a lawyer.
Like other lawsuits, when one files a Complaint for Divorce, the other party must be notified about the case by service of process. Typically, this is handled by hiring a process server to deliver the legal papers to the defendant’s known address. Once the person has been served, they have a certain amount of time in which to respond to the Complaint. When the defendant cannot be located, however, Arkansas, like many states, allows the plaintiff to serve them by publication. To avail oneself of this option, the party seeking the divorce must demonstrate to the court that they have made every reasonable effort to locate the person. The filing spouse must submit an Affidavit of Diligent Search with the court outlining the efforts that have been taken in this attempt. This may include searching through phone and internet directories, contacting the person’s friends and family members, landlords, current or former employers, etc. If the person still cannot be located, the plaintiff is required to file an Affidavit for Warning Order, which is a notarized statement that the defendant cannot be found. Once the judge is satisfied that adequate efforts have been taken, the Warning Order may be published in one of two ways. It can either be posted on the court’s bulletin board for thirty days or published in a newspaper of general circulation for at least two weeks. Afterward, the plaintiff must attempt to send the Complaint to the defendant’s last known address via certified mail, return receipt requested. Should this also fail, the plaintiff may request that the court proceeds with their divorce hearing without the defendant being present.
It is important to remember that Arkansas is a “fault” divorce state. The plaintiff may, therefore, still be required to attend a fairly routine hearing, to demonstrate grounds for divorce and discuss other issues that may be relevant to the final judgment. Particularly if child custody or property division are open issues, the court may require additional testimony or evidence before entering a default judgment. An experienced divorce attorney can help you navigate this process. My office has experience handling divorce cases when a spouse must be served by publication. If you need assistance, contact my office today to schedule a consultation with a lawyer. In addition to Little Rock, I also handle matters in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Springdale, Jonesboro, North Little Rock, Conway, Rogers, Pine Bluff, and throughout the rest of Arkansas.