My clients often find themselves in a situation where they do not know the location of their spouse when they are ready to start divorce proceedings. This can be for a number of reasons: they have been separated so long they no longer have any contact information for their spouse; their spouse left without leaving any contact information; or their spouse is purposely hiding. The problem with not knowing where your spouse is located is that your spouse must be served with your petition prior to proceeding with any divorce. How do you serve someone if you don’t know where they are? Rest assured, you can still get a divorce in Louisiana if your spouse cannot be located.
Option 1: DIY: Locate Your Absent Spouse Yourself
The first thing I suggest to potential clients is to start making some calls to friends and family of your spouse to see if they can figure out the location of their spouse. Sometimes a relative or co-worker will have some insight into your spouse’s whereabouts. Also, check on social media (facebook, instagram, twitter). If you do not have these accounts or you and your spouse have blocked each other, then see if a mutual friend has seen your spouse on social media.
These efforts will help with saving money, because otherwise your next options are much more costly. Lastly, when attempting to locate an absent spouse, proceed with caution. Do your research from the phone or computer. Do not show up at locations that you think your spouse may be unannounced, especially if your spouse was abusive. If you have an idea of where your absent spouse is then consult with your attorney.
Option 2: Private Investigator
If a client is absolutely unable to determine the location of a spouse on their own but has identifying information on the spouse, you and your attorney can try hiring a private investigator to obtain the whereabouts of the spouse. Once the private investigator gets a possible location information on the spouse, he/she will sit out at these locations to determine if the spouse is actually living there. Hiring a private investigator can be a problem because (1) it can take a lot of time and money to obtain the location of the spouse; and (2) there is no guarantee the spouse will be able to be served by the sheriff at the location found.
Option 3: Declaring Spouse Absent by the Court
There is a third option for obtaining a divorce when your spouse cannot be located. This option is to have your spouse declared an absent person by the court. The court will appoint an attorney to represent your absent spouse, which will allow you to serve the attorney in place of your spouse. This lawyer is formally called a curator.
The curator has several duties to the court and to the absent person they represent. The curator attorney will attempt to look for the missing person by sending a certified copy of the petition for divorce by certified mail to the last known address of the absent person. If the letter is not claimed, the lawyer will place an ad in the local newspaper of the last known address of the absent person requesting anyone knowing the whereabouts of the missing person to contact the curator attorney. If the spouse is found at any point during the proceedings, the curator’s job is to serve them with the divorce papers. Once the curator attorney has completed his/her duties, the divorce can be set for trial and a divorce judgment obtained.
Appointing a curator to represent your absent spouse is a helpful solution to a common problem. However, you must keep in mind that your divorce will take longer to complete due to the curator’s duties and will be more expensive than a simple, uncontested divorce. This is because you, as the filing spouse, are required to pay the fees of the curator attorney appointed to represent your spouse. These fees vary by each jurisdiction, but in Jefferson or Orleans Parish curator fees are typically around $500.00. You will also be required to reimburse the curator attorney for his/her expenses such as the certified mailing fee and advertising costs. In considering these costs,, it is important to note that these fees do not include the costs that you will also have to pay your attorney and court costs for the divorce proceedings against your absent spouse.
Having a curator attorney appointed to accept service for your missing spouse is not an ideal situation, but it does allow you to obtain your divorce when there are no other options available to you. If you need a divorce – because you need to terminate your community property regime to purchase property, want to get remarried, or simply don’t want to be married to your ex anymore – and you do not know where your spouse is, you need to call an attorney to start the divorce process with a curator.
A curator attorney can also accept service of petitions with other requests for relief such as child custody. Often when a spouse/parent leaves the family, the parent left to care for the child needs an order of sole custody. The reason for this need may be school related, to get a passport for the child, or to prevent the absent person from taking the child. When a curator is appointed in a custody proceeding, the same procedure will apply. Once the curator has performed his/her duties, the court will set a hearing on the custody petition and the curator will attend the hearing in the place of the absent parent.
You can find more information about divorce pricing and court costs here and about child custody here.