Over the decades, once in a great while, I have been contacted by a defendant (not my client, but my client’s ex) in a divorce I filed or by such a person’s lawyer and was informed that that defendant just found out, many months or even years later, that my client had divorced that person. Those contacts, usually made by telephone, are always very interesting as none of the divorces I file go through without there being a document signed by the defendant and, typically, notarized.
In most of those cases, the defendants simply did not remember signing but were satisfied, upon seeing their signatures, that they had signed. Pretty embarrassing, but in at least two cases, my clients, unbeknownst to me, had apparently, believe it or not, taken a person with forged identification documents, to a notary then used that forged document to conclude the divorce. Naturally, I stated that I would not oppose those defendants asking the court, by official petition, to throw out the divorce. I never received notice of that ever being done, so those folks probably gave it some thought and either remembered that they did sign or decided just to let it alone and remain divorced. That is one example how, by the extreme means of fraud, deceit and forgery, a person can find out that a divorce went through without ever being notified.
Many more divorces go through without the defendant spouse knowing about it and those actions were completely legal. Now I do not handle such cases because the process is very expensive with fees exceeding $5000.00 not being unusual. These are divorce actions wherein the spouse filing the divorce legitimately has lost track of the defendant spouse and despite much effort, failed to locate that spouse.
One cannot simply tell the Court “I have tried to find my spouse but can’t, so just give me my divorce.” If that worked, parties wanting a divorce who did know where the spouse was may lie to the Court to get a divorce without telling the defendant spouse about it so it could not be contested. Such parties must prove to the Court in great detail what steps have been taken to locate the defendants and ask the Court what further actions need to be taken in that regard.
Under the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, that process is called a Good Faith Investigation and Special Order of Court. This is complicated and unless undertaken by an experienced lawyer will probably not work. Searches for the defendant will be made by attempting to contact relatives, friends, acquaintances, employers and even various government agencies such as those issuing drivers’ licenses, vehicle titles and/or voter registration cards. If all of that is done then carefully documented and presented to the Court, the defendant not having been found, the Judge typically orders that lengthy advertisements be place in a newspaper where it is thought the defendant last resided as well as in the legal publication serving that area. (By the way, the last time that I performed such legal services for a client was some time in the 1970s and just those ads cost $1800!) If after those ads have run and sufficient time passes for them to have been seen by the defendant and people who may know the defendant, the lawyer must again appear before the Judge and demonstrate that the ads were placed without result and ask that the divorce be granted.
The above process clearly shows how much work the lawyer must do under the watchful eye of the Court including at least two separate appearances by the lawyer in Court. That’s why it is so costly, but it can therefore result in the divorce being granted with the defendant ever knowing about it.
The moral of the story? Be able to get the required signature from your spouse or begin a savings account to accumulate the thousands of dollars you will need without that signature. And if you cannot locate your spouse, call me, 1-800-486-4070, for advice that may well help you get a low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce with needing thousands of dollars.