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You and your husband came to the U.S. from Costa Rica 10 years ago. You had two children, but things didn't go well between the two of you. He walked out of the house five years ago and went - where? Probably Costa Rica, but you're not sure.

He has not contacted you, nor sent any child support, since he departed.

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You want a divorce. You have grounds. You and your husband have lived separate and apart without cohabitation for more than two years. The required separation period is one year for a voluntary separation, and two if the spouses simply lived apart without any agreement to separate.

You cannot afford a lawyer, so you proceed on your own. You fill out a divorce petition form and prepare to file it with the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

Now for the tough part. It is a basic principle that you must notify the defendant, the person you are suing. It would be grossly unfair for anyone to be able to get a court judgment against someone without giving him a chance to defend himself.

What if you have no idea where he is? Are you stuck being married to this man you will probably never see again? The good news: no. The bad news: It will take extra work.

You must try to locate your husband. Send letters, return receipts requested, to his last known address, his relatives and friends, his last known employer. Contact the Motor Vehicle Administration to obtain a non-certified record that will list his ZIP code and any vehicle accidents he had in the past three years, which may help you track him down if he stayed in Maryland. Try anything else you can think of, such as an ex-girlfriend who has a few things she would like to say to him, too. Keep copies of every letter or record.

If you can afford to hire an attorney or private detective, that person may be able to obtain your husband's current address.

If all your efforts fail, you can file a motion for alternate service. If the judge is convinced you have made reasonable efforts to find your soon-to-be ex, he may order service by mail to your husband's last known address, by posting a notice on the courthouse door or a bulletin board nearby or by publishing a notice at least once a week for three weeks in a newspaper that circulates in the county.

As a practical matter, if your husband left the country years ago, it is unlikely he will see the notice. Or care. But stranger things have happened. One of his friends may see it and contact him to say, "Dude, you're getting divorced."

Legally, the important part is that you made a good faith effort to notify him, which clears the way for your divorce to go forward.

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