What Happens If I Don’t Know Where My Spouse Is?

Question: I would like to get a divorce from my spouse, but I do not know where they are or how to find them.  Is it still possible to get a divorce from them?

Answer: In order for the family court to hear your case they must have personal jurisdiction over you and your spouse.  The court gets this personal jurisdiction over your spouse when they are served with the complaint (the papers filed with the family court).  Usually this is done by personally serving your spouse according to the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure.  Typically, you would have a process server or some independent third party serve your spouse by personally handing them the papers.

Well, clearly this can’t be done if your spouse is no where to be found.  In this case, you must serve them by publication.  What that means is that an advertisement or legal notice is run in the legal notice section of  a newspaper of “general circulation” in the county where your spouse was last known to reside.  In order to run this advertisement; however, you must perform a diligent search for your missing spouse and then file a motion asking the family court’s permission to serve your spouse by publication and including an affidavit stating everything you have done to attempt to locate your spouse.

Once your motion has been approved, a legal notice is run one per week for three weeks.  At the end of the third week, your spouse has 30 days to respond.  If there is no response, then your spouse is in “default” meaning they have not responded and you can proceed with your case.


  1. In my situation, the divorce papers were served to my spouse, a settlement was reached and approved by the court last January. Now that a year has passed I want to finalize our divorce, however my spouse has left the state. Her last known address was in Ohio. I have been told that all I need to do is mail a certified letter to her last know address and that restricted delivery is not required in this case. In other words I do not need HER signature on the ‘green card’ Is this true??

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