Your spouse may be able to go to court and divorce you without your knowledge. You can find out if you're divorced by doing some online research. The less you know about where your spouse is, the harder it will be to find out. Discovering you've been divorced may enable you to challenge the decision, but it isn't guaranteed.
Notifying Spouses About the Divorce Filing
One of the steps to ending a marriage is for the spouse filing for divorce to notify the other party. Normally the court requires that your spouse serve you with legal papers. If your spouse can't find you – say, one of you moved away years ago – the judge can authorize your spouse to simply announce the divorce in the local paper. The spouse seeking the divorce must make a good-faith effort to find you first.
Once the newspaper announces the divorce, your spouse can proceed. If you see the notification or receive legal papers but choose to ignore them, your spouse can still move ahead. Eventually your spouse may receive a default judgment ending your marriage.
Researching the Divorce
The divorce must be filed in the place where your spouse lives. If you married in Georgia but your spouse is now a resident of Texas, the filing must be in Texas, not back in Georgia. Provided you know where in Texas your spouse lives, you can try looking up both of your names in the county court records online.
Simply moving to another state doesn't automatically establish residency. If your spouse moves but doesn't change legal identifiers such as driver's license registration or voting registration, the place of residence hasn't officially changed. Almost all states require that someone be a legal resident before that person can file for divorce there.
It'll take more time and effort if you're not sure where to find your spouse. If you're lucky, you'll need only a few minutes of Internet searching. If that doesn't work, you may need to use one of the many websites that specialize in finding people and their personal information. You can also search through state databases of court records to try to track down divorce information.
Many courts and local governments make information about family-law cases available online, but not all of them do. If not, the only way to search the records is to make a physical visit to the relevant courthouse.
Challenging the Divorce
If you don't want a divorce or you don't accept the terms of the default judgment, you may be able to challenge it. You can contest a default judgment by showing you had a legitimate reason for not responding. Proving your spouse didn't make a good-faith effort to notify you might do the trick. State law may give you only a limited amount of time to do this.
You can also ask the judge to modify the original decision, or you can appeal the judge's divorce decision to a higher court. This usually requires sound reasons, such as proof your spouse misrepresented material facts. It might be smart to consult a lawyer so you know the best way to proceed with the highest chance of success.
- Law Help DC: Serving Divorce Papers if You Can't Locate Your Spouse
- Legal Aid of West Virginia: Responding to a Divorce Your Spouse Filed
- Mass Legal Services: How to Look Up Court Records on the Internet – Links to Online Access to Records in Other States
- Lawyers.com: Divorce in a Different State or Country
- Findlaw: Appeals and Motions to Modify the Divorce Judgment
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