Saturday, May 5, 2007

Divorce: The case of the disappearing spouse

The spouse disappeared years ago. Now the other spouse wants a divorce. I never met one of these cases till I was in Indianapolis during 2000-02. When I say disappeared, I mean long gone and no idea of where to find her. While in Indianapolis there were two of these cases, both men and both had not seen their wives in over five years. I left before I could get their cases started and have no idea what was the outcome.

I remember one had no idea of where the wife was from, where her family lived, or where she might have gone. I do recall that she worked as a dancer. I also remember wondering how he could know so little about the person he married and why he waited so long to file for divorce.

Now, those questions are important. Whenever anything gets filed in court a copy must be served on the other side. The Indiana Trial Rules spend a lot of pages describing the rules of what is service, how to serve, and where to serve. One method for serving a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is by publication in a newspaper. If you take a look at the classified advertising section of a newspaper, most have a section for legal classifieds. You may see a summons by publication in that edition's legal classifieds.

I do not like service by publication, but I have no choice if the client has no address of where the opposing side lives. Why do I not like service by publication? Mostly because it is easier for the opposing party to set aside a judgment because of improper service. It does mean more work for lawyers and it adds the cost of paying the newspaper to the divorce, but that those are minor considerations.

I had one person recently with a husband missing twenty years. I still do not understand why the delay in seeking a divorce. Maybe they watched My Favorite Wife just one too many times. On the other hand, that movie does bring to mind an idea - declaring the missing spouse as legally dead. I admit without any great embarrassment that I have no idea how to do this under Indiana law. When I have time for idle amusements, I will have to do some research.

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