Divorce: “Petition to Publish” Rather than Serving Your Spouse

A sad young man who lived in Albany, “Ben”, came into our Oakland office. He and his wife were married for 15 years; they’d separated 18 months ago and he was still devastated. His wife had moved away, and he wanted to file for divorce, hoping this would create some finality so he could get past this. There were no children, so this significantly simplified the divorce process for this couple.

Filing a Petition to Publish

Benjamin had done some research, and he wanted to file a “Petition to Publish” rather than having to serve his wife personally because he didn’t know—but more importantly—he didn’t want to know where she was living. He was still very hurt about his wife’s leaving, and he thought it would be easier if he didn’t have to meet with her in order to serve her.

Service by publication: publishing the summons in a local newspaper

According to California law, if you don’t know the whereabouts of your spouse or domestic partner to properly serve him/her with your filed summons and petition (or some other document), you can ask the court for permission to serve your papers “by publication” or “by posting.” “Service by publication” means that you publish the summons or other document in a newspaper of general circulation in the area where your spouse is likely to live. The summons must be published weekly for four consecutive weeks, and the publication invoices accordingly.

Getting court approval for a Petition to Publish can be difficult

The courts strongly encourage personally serving documents on the other party, so it can be difficult to get a Petition to Publish approved by the courts. Even though our client was willing to pay additional fees to have the paperwork prepared, he realized that, as part of the paperwork, he couldn’t swear under penalty of perjury that he had made every effort possible to find his wife. The courts require that the petitioner diligently record every effort he/she has made in the effort to locate the other party, which can be very time consuming and may include:

  • Publication in a newspaper in the last known city the respondent lived.
  • Detailed logs of attempts to locate the missing spouse through internet searches and social media.
  • Checking DMV records.
  • Scouring the white pages.
  • Contacting relatives and persuading them to divulge the address.

Most people find the process of searching and documentation daunting. They realize that it would be easier to reach out to likely sources and locate the missing spouse than try to get court approval for a Petition to Publish. Ben agreed that getting a divorce was his primary goal and this process would further delay his divorce.

Ben renewed his search, located his wife and hired a process server

Ben restarted his search and eventually found a friend who provided his wife’s current address, and he hired a process server to serve her with the dissolution paperwork, circumventing his having to personally interface with her. Now that his wife has been served, as long as she does not file a response with the court, we will be able to help him finish the dissolution process without her involvement, easing the divorce process as much as possible for Ben.

Are you thinking about Divorce but need more information about how we work with our clients? Call California Document Preparers at one of our three Bay Area offices today to schedule an appointment. We’re helpful, compassionate and affordable.