How to File for Divorce With an Ad in the Newspaper

By Tom Streissguth

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Although state residency requirements vary somewhat, if you are seeking a divorce, you must typically file a petition for dissolution of marriage in the county where you live now, or where you lived as a couple. If you are unable to find your spouse, or your spouse is avoiding service of the petition, you can “serve by publication,” meaning you officially notify your spouse in a newspaper.

File for divorce according to the laws of your state and the rules of the clerk of court. In practice, this means submitting a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and a filing fee, either by mail or in person, at a clerk’s office. The clerk will issue a summons that requires a response from your spouse.You must attempt to serve the petition and summons on your spouse, who has a statutory period of time in which to file a response.

Attempt service of the petition and summons on your spouse. If you are unable to carry out service, file a declaration with the clerk that you have exhausted all efforts to locate your spouse or serve your spouse with the petition. You must give your spouse’s last known address and the attempts you have made at carrying out service, either by law enforcement or a private process server.

Obtain an order for publication from the clerk. In most jurisdictions, the order must be signed by a judge. Ask the clerk for a list of approved publications, which will include a local newspaper, which serve as official media for legal announcements. The basic idea of publication is to legally declare the divorce to your spouse through a printed announcement, even though your spouse may already know of your intention.

Contact the appropriate newspaper -- the newspaper that's available where you believe your spouse to be residing -- and arrange for publication of the summons issued by the clerk. The paper will charge a fee for publication at its classified advertising rates. The summons will be published in the want-ad section under “Legal Notices” or a similar heading. State law determines the minimum duration of publication.

Obtain a proof of publication form or affidavit from the newspaper, and file this form with the clerk. The statement should list the dates of publication. Attach a copy of the published petition and summons. The clerk will then schedule a hearing so that you may proceed with the divorce case, obtain a final judgment and legally terminate your marriage.

Items you will need

  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage

  • Filing fee

  • Clerk's Publication Order

  • Affidavit or Proof of Publication


If you are unsure of your spouse's location, you may publish the divorce in a national newspaper. However, this course of action also brings national exposure.

For service by publication, the laws of each state, and the rules of each court, will vary. If you are unsure of specific local requirements, consult an experienced family-law attorney.


The court may require a hearing on a motion to publish the divorce petition and summons. You must attend and prove to a judge that you have tried and failed to serve the papers on your spouse.