Filing a Divorce Notification for an Absent Spouse in Missouri

By Beverly Bird

Missouri allows you to proceed with a divorce if you’ve lost track of your spouse's whereabouts, but you’ll have to convince the court that you did everything possible to find him. Like most states, Missouri offers an option called "service by publication," so you can notify your spouse of your divorce proceedings with a legal notice in the newspaper. It entails filing a variety of documents with the court.

Diligent Search

Your first filing with the court should be your petition for divorce. After you’ve filed, attempt the usual means of service. In Missouri, you can give a copy of your petition to the sheriff in the county where you last knew your spouse to reside. The sheriff will attempt to hand-deliver your petition to him. Even if the current resident turns him away because your spouse no longer lives there, this step will provide proof to the court that he's moved. Next, you’ll have to do some detective work. The easiest -- but most costly -- way of finding your spouse is to hire a private investigator. If you don’t want to go through this expense, you can make efforts of your own. Call his family members, friends and places of past employment. Search social network sites on the Internet for some trace of him. The important thing is not that you find him, but that you can prove to the court that you tried.

Application for Permission

After you’ve exhausted all efforts to find your absent spouse, you must get permission from the court to alert him to your divorce by newspaper notification. In Missouri, this involves filing a petition with the court. Detail your efforts in the petition and attach proof of your failed attempts to serve and locate him, such as the sheriff’s official notice that he wasn't at his last known address. The sheriff should have provided this to you, but if he didn't, you can contact the sheriff’s department and ask for a copy.


If the court approves your efforts to find your spouse, the judge will issue an order allowing you to serve him with a notice in the newspaper. Take your order to the legal notice department of the newspaper named in it. If the order doesn't mention a newspaper, call the court clerk for guidance. The newspaper staff can assist you with all the information your notice must contain, such as the case number and other identifying details about your divorce action. In Missouri, your notice must run in the newspaper for four weeks, but one appearance each week is sufficient.


When your notice to your spouse has run the required number of times in the newspaper, you'll receive written confirmation. This is your official filing with the court that you’ve given your spouse notice of the divorce action. It’s important that you file your confirmation with the court as soon as possible because this starts the clock ticking on when you can officially proceed with your divorce. Missouri allows your spouse 45 days to take heed of the notification and file a response to your divorce petition with the court.


If your spouse does respond to your notice, your divorce can proceed along normal channels. Otherwise, after the expiration of 45 days, you can request the court give you a divorce by default, meaning your spouse hasn’t participated. However, your divorce may be limited in some respects if you can’t find your spouse and if he doesn’t respond to your notice. Depending on your county, a judge may or may not be able to address integral issues, such as property division and child support, because your spouse wasn't available to defend his interests. You'll get a divorce, but these issues will remain unresolved and outstanding.