How to Proceed if the Other Parent Has Disappeared by Cassandra Hearn


It is fairly common in family law cases for the parties to fall out of touch before a divorce or custody case can be filed. This is especially true if there are no children involved, parties simply drift apart and one may move out. Sometimes parties wait so long before starting a divorce, child custody, or child support action, that the party wanting to initiate the suit no longer has information about the other party's whereabouts. Even in the absence of this information, though, there are ways to proceed with your case.


The first step of filing any lawsuit, including family law, is to file the suit and have it properly served on the other party. Correct and proper service is essential; if proper service is not accomplished, you will not be able to complete your divorce or child custody action. While each case may have unique circumstances for service, if you do not know where the other party lives, you will need to attempt service at the party's last known address and have that service be returned. Your attorney can guide you through proper ways to have personal service attempted. Once the service has been attempted but returned, you will then need to ask the court's permission to proceed with substitute service. Before you will be granted this type of permission, you will need to produce proof that you actually attempted to locate the other party. This type of effort to locate typically takes the form of calling old phone numbers, trying to get in touch with mutual friends, reaching out to family members, and searching social media at a minimum.


Once the court approves a request for substitute service, the most common way to accomplish substitute service is by publication. As the name suggests, service by publication entails publishing an ad in a local newspaper for a set amount of time and court posting. After the ads run, and the time expires, you can then ask the court to grant you your requested relief, even if the other party never answers the law suit. Essentially, what the law requires is that service is attempted in the way required by statute; it does not require that the other party be present or answer the suit before the suit can be ruled upon by the court.


Although this sounds like a straight forward process, there are important statutory regulations surrounding service. Adequate and proper service is the foundation any family law case. We have experience with completing cases even when one party is disappearing or dodging service. Contact us today at 619-800-0384 to discuss how to move your family law case forward.