Separations are not often clean events where spouses maturely exit the relationship with a sense of closure. In fact, there are circumstances where spouses completely lose contact with each other. Whether this is because they drifted apart or one spouse simply doesn’t want to be found by the other, this can create a challenge when it comes to legally ending a marriage.
People Must Be Served with a Lawsuit
For a court in the United States to enter valid orders that affect a person, that court must have personal jurisdiction over her or him. This is a Latin term that has long meant that a court must be able to speak the law as to a person to bind that person to its orders. To gain this jurisdiction, a person must receive notice that they are being sued, the relief the other person is seeking, and where they must appear to contest the lawsuit.
A common and well-accepted method of notifying a person of a lawsuit is by personal service, hand delivered by a qualified process server. This ensures that the person is actually aware of the proceedings and is afforded the opportunity to respond. However, this is not always possible. As in the situation where a spouse cannot be found, this raises a reasonable question for a spouse who wants a divorce: Am I stuck in my marriage if my spouse cannot be served?
Service By Publication
The answer is no, if the proper efforts and steps are taken. The North Carolina General Statutes allow for “service by publication” of “[a] party that cannot with due diligence be served by personal delivery, registered or certified mail, or by a designated delivery service authorized” by law.
What this means is that if you are seeking a divorce, but you cannot locate your spouse, then you must exhaust all reasonable means of trying to find them. This would fulfill the due diligence process. Once your attorney can demonstrate this to the court, then the court may authorize service by publishing a notice for three consecutive weeks in a newspaper in an area where that spouse is believed to reside. If the specific legal requirements and time frames are met, then the court can assume jurisdiction over the missing spouse and enter a legally binding absolute divorce order.
Let New Direction Family Law Assist You
The rules of civil procedure are complex and fraught with peril for the inexperienced. Divorce, property division, alimony, and child custody proceedings are far too important to leave to chance. With over a decade of legal experience, the attorneys at New Direction Family law can help guide you through the legal process from start to finish and provide you with smart, thorough, and effective counsel. We appreciate that your future is at issue and want to help you move forward with your life. Call New Direction Family Law at (919) 719-3470 to schedule a consultation or visit us online at our website.
Sarah J. Hink
New Direction Family Law