How Do I Get a Divorce if I Can’t Find My Spouse?

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Not knowing the whereabouts of your spouse or civil partner does not prevent you from getting a divorce or dissolution. There are some extra court procedures you will probably have to follow before the court will grant you a divorce. You will need to show the court that you have taken all reasonable steps to find an address for your missing spouse/partner so they can be served with the divorce application.

If you can find an address for your spouse/partner or a close relative of theirs, such as a sibling or parent, you should do so because there are occasions when a divorce application can be served on the relative if they are still in touch with your spouse/partner.

Why do I need to find my spouse/partner?

Even if you have been separated for several years, your spouse/partner is still entitled to receive a copy of the divorce application. The court is unlikely to grant a divorce unless you have proved to them that you have taken the necessary steps to attempt to locate your spouse/partner so that they can be served with the divorce application.

If your spouse/partner has moved overseas and there is very little opportunity to obtain their address, the court is likely to allow you to proceed with the divorce. There are several routes you can take depending on your situation:

  • Application for substituted service of the divorce application: If you know where your spouse/partner works, or where their relatives live, then you can ask the court for the divorce application to be served there instead. You will have to persuade the court that your spouse/partner will be made aware of the divorce application using this method, otherwise you will need to use a different method.
  • Application for a Disclosure Order from HMRC: If you have no contact with your spouse/partner’s relatives or don’t know where they live, you can apply to the court for a disclosure order. However, you can only do so if your spouse/partner last lived in the UK. This order is made against HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and you will need to provide them with your spouse/partner’s full name, date of birth, National Insurance (NI) number (if you have it) and their last known address. HMRC will then search their database to try and locate an address for them. If they do find an address, they will notify the court in writing. Following which, the court will forward the divorce application to that address. If your spouse/partner does not respond, the divorce will continue without their input.
  • Application to dispense with service of the divorce application: If your spouse/partner was a foreign national or there is no other way of locating them or any relative, you can apply to the court to dispense with service of the divorce petition. There are additional court costs for this and each time you make an application to court, it costs an extra, over and above the costs of the divorce application, which is currently set at £593.

Using a tracing agent

Tracing agents are expert in tracing missing people and can generally do this in a matter of a few days, providing you with a much-needed address. Typically, they charge on a two-tier basis – an initial sum called a ‘submission fee’ which they use for their search budget, and a ‘success fee’ which is contingent on providing you with your spouse/partner’s location. However, you are probably looking at spending upwards of £300, and easily much more, for these types of service. As with any service, it is advisable to obtain several quotes upfront and check out online reviews before making a final decision.

Can the divorce application be served via email?

The general rule on service of a divorce application is that the court will send it to the respondent (the spouse who hasn’t applied for the divorce), although the applicant can do this themselves on request. Generally speaking, if the applicant provides an email address, the application will be served on the respondent via email followed by a notice confirming this has been done, sent by post.

This will be a letter sent to the respondent’s postal address informing them that an application has been made, and that a link to view the divorce application has been sent to them via email.

The email address should be the respondent’s ‘usual email address’, which is considered to be the email address actively used by the respondent for personal emails. Business emails should be avoided if possible.

Other ways to locate your spouse/partner’s address

Using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn can be a tremendous way to locate your spouse/partner or other close family members because most people use these platforms on a daily basis.


Do you need help with your divorce?

Get in touch now with one of our panel of specialist local family solicitors.

If relevant, please include below the name of the other party (so the solicitor can check they have not already provided advice to your partner):

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