What is ‘service by publication’ in a Georgia divorce?

One of the basic tenets of the U.S. legal system is that if you have been sued, you should know for what you are being sued for, and who is doing the suing. The system tries to ensure this happens by requiring a party filing a petition for some form of civil legal relief to serve the opposing party with the suit. This is normally done by delivering a copy of the paperwork to the defendant in person, either through a law enforcement officer or a private process serving company. As a divorce in Georgia is technically a civil lawsuit, this requirement is true of divorce filings as well.

What happens if you want a divorce but don’t know where your spouse is?

As it would be unfair to allow your spouse to disappear and prevent you from terminating the marriage, Georgia law accounts for this. There is a kind of service called “service by publication,” which allows the court to consider the defendant on notice of the suit after the petitioner has followed a few steps.

The petitioner will first have to ask permission from the court to notify by publication. This is done by filing both an affidavit and a motion. The affidavit contains the oath of the petitioner, who swears that he or she doesn’t know where the spouse is, that he or she tried to find the spouse using reasonable diligence, and what state the spouse last resided in. If the motion is granted, the petitioner puts an ad in an appropriate periodical, usually a newspaper for four weeks, stating that the divorce has been filed, and with what court. Once this happens, if the defendant doesn’t file an answer with the court, a divorce can be granted at least 60 days after the first notice was published. It should be noted that divorces that are served by publication will keep the court from being able to award alimony, child support or distribute any property outside of the state of Georgia. Further, lying to the court about knowing where one’s spouse is can have serious consequences.