How to Get Divorced From an Estranged Husband
By Cindy Hill
Emotional estrangement between spouses is often a precursor to divorce. Physical estrangement, or living apart, is a necessary element of many legal grounds for divorce as it provides proof of abandonment, irreconcilable differences, or the separation necessary to qualify for no-fault divorce. You can divorce an emotionally or physically estranged husband by filing for divorce from him in accordance with the rules and procedures of your local family law court.
Estrangement and Separation
Estrangement and separation are not necessarily considered the same thing from a legal perspective. Spouses may consider themselves estranged, yet still be living in the same house. Whether this qualifies as abandonment, separation or living apart for purposes of divorce filings varies from state to state. Physically living apart does not necessarily automatically qualify as separation from a divorce court perspective either. Continued social interactions can negate an assertion that a couple is living separate and apart for purposes of a no-fault divorce filing, whereas living in the same house but discontinuing intimate relations may qualify as grounds of abandonment or irreconcilable differences in a divorce filed for fault. Confer with your local family court clerk's office or consult a qualified divorce attorney in your jurisdiction to determine how the conditions of your estrangement from your husband intersect with local divorce requirements.
A legal separation may also be referred to in some jurisdictions as a limited divorce. A legal separation does not terminate the marriage, and no grounds or reasons need to be stated to obtain a legal separation. Unlike an informal physical separation or estrangement, a legal separation initiates a court action to determine issues like paying child support or spousal support, dividing household bills, and setting schedules for child visitation. Filing for legal separation from your estranged husband can compel discussions about the relationship and the practical considerations that need to be resolved for divorce.
If two spouses are not only physically or emotionally estranged, but also legally separated, they may attain a conversion divorce after a set period of time prescribed by the laws of the state in which the separation has been filed. A conversion divorce changes the court-issued separation order, or court-approved separation agreement, into a permanent divorce decree. A conversion divorce can often be the fastest and most efficient route to a divorce, as the legal separation period has given both parties a chance to work out any financial and emotional issues.
If your spouse is not only estranged but long gone, you may need to use an alternative method of serving the divorce papers. When a spouse cannot be located, most states allow the notice that a divorce has been filed to be served by publication in the legal notices of local newspapers. Some divorce courts may require you to demonstrate that you have taken substantial steps to locate your missing spouse before they will allow divorce notice by publication. These steps may include sending letters by certified mail to their last known places of residence or employment, checking motor vehicle and voter registration records, contacting former friends or relatives, and looking through phone books.
- Indiana Legal Services: Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce
- Idaho Courts Self-Help: Serving the Summons By Publication (When You Can't Find Your Spouse)
- Southern Indiana University School of Law Self-Help Legal Center: How To File an Uncontested Legal Separation in Illinois
- Legal Assistance of Western New York: New York State Grounds for Divorce
- Cornell University Law School: Divorce and Separation Overview
- National Paralegal College: Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce
A freelance writer since 1978 and attorney since 1981, Cindy Hill has won awards for articles on organic agriculture and wild foods, and has published widely in the areas of law, public policy, local foods and gardening. She holds a B.A. in political science from State University of New York and a Master of Environmental Law and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.