One of the more difficult cases of divorce is one in which abandonment or disappearance comes into play. Divorce law in Massachusetts generally requires that one party serve another with divorce papers, or that both parties file jointly. When your spouse has gone missing and you have not been able to find them through any means, however, what happens when you wish to divorce but cannot serve divorce papers?
Luckily, you are not bound into a marriage you do not want simply by the absence of your spouse. Massachusetts has alternative provisions for handling divorce from a missing spouse, as detailed on the Mass.gov website. As in any case, you must notify the defendant before a judge can make a decision. When you cannot notify the defendant by serving them with papers, you may first ask the sheriff to attempt to serve papers at their last known address. If that fails, you can petition the courts for a motion for service by publication, or a motion for alternative service.
Service by publication involves making public notice of the proceedings in an appointed newspaper. With a divorce, however, you may be granted a motion for alternative service. It depends on the circumstances surrounding your divorce, and the circumstances surrounding your absent or missing spouse. You will need to attach an affidavit to your petition, and possibly appear in court for a decision regarding the petition; you may also receive notice by mail, at which point you are free to take appropriate action to fulfill the requirements for serving notice via alternative methods.
This has been an informational blog post that should not be misconstrued as actionable legal advice.