No matter what is published on the internet, no state permits a "newspaper divorce," in which a marriage is terminated by public notice alone. On the other hand, court rules require that the spouse seeking divorce notify the other by serving the summons and complaint on him, and one of the possible ways of service is by publication. But publishing a public notice to divorce is permitted only in certain circumstances.
Due Process and Divorce
With the widespread acceptance of no-fault divorce, a person who wants a divorce gets a divorce, no matter what the other spouse says or does. But due process requires that the spouse receives notice of a marriage dissolution action and gets the chance to appear and present arguments about the other issues of divorce, like child custody, family support and property division.
This is the case in every lawsuit in the country, not just divorce. Although courts may make preliminary decisions in urgent matters ex parte (without notice to the other party), in most court cases, the plaintiff filing the lawsuit must serve a copy of the summons and complaint on the other party.
Serving a Summons and Complaint
"Serving" legal papers has a special meaning in the law. It is the word used for getting those copies of court papers to the other parties. Each state has its own rules about ways a party can serve papers, but all include personal service. This is the most common type of service. To personally serve someone, an adult who is not a party to the action (like a paid process server or a sheriff) personally hands a copy of the papers to the party.
But sometimes the other party doesn't want to be served and attempts to evade the process service. Or, he may just be difficult to find. Courts allow a process server to use other types of services, like leaving papers with someone in charge at his office or an adult member of his household. If the person cannot be located, courts allow service by publication.
Service by Publication
Some parties actively and successfully evade service or leave town and hide. A spouse who wants to prevent a divorce might do this, knowing that the plaintiff spouse cannot get a default judgment without service. If the plaintiff can't locate her to serve personally, by mail or any other legal means of service, the last resort is service of the summons by publication.
A plaintiff spouse needs the court's permission to use this method of publication. He can only get the court's okay if he proves that he tried as hard as he could to locate his spouse. In the Application to Allow Service by Publication, he must list every step he took to try to find the other party, including the dates, the times, what he attempted, and the newspaper in which he intends to publish.
If a court grants this application, it will issue an order (for example, FL-982 in California) granting permission to serve by publication, specifying the newspaper to use and the document to be published. Note that the rules will vary among states, so a spouse interested in using service by publication must check with the particular court for instructions.
Publishing Notice of the Case
The plaintiff spouse must take the court order to the newspaper selected, pay the fee, and have the newspaper publish the summons once a week for four consecutive weeks. Once publication is completed, the newspaper will provide an affidavit stating that the document was published, with a copy of the notice that appeared in the newspaper.
The plaintiff spouse files the original with the court. At the close of the 28th day after the first publication, service by publication is complete. It the spouse being divorced doesn't file a response to the divorce petition, she can file a Request to Enter Default 30 days later.
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images