It does not happen too often, but every once in a while you might find yourself dealing with a party who simply does not want to be found. Whether they have fled the state, hid their location, and/or just refuse to disclose their whereabouts, it can be arduous to get the divorce process started when you are unable to serve them with a complaint.

Serving a party with your divorce complaint is usually not all that complicated. Simply put, any competent adult not a party to the action may hand-deliver the divorce complaint. In addition, sending certified mail (restricted delivery) or FedEx are also acceptable forms of service for the initial divorce complaint—both of which require a signature of receipt from the served party.

However, what happens when none of these methods work? Fortunately, Pennsylvania provides for alternate ways of serving an absent party through a Motion for Service Pursuant to a Special Order. Although you will need to prove you have “done your research” in finding the party to have your motion granted. While not an exhaustive list, here are a number of steps that will help prove you did your due diligence:

  1. Hand-deliver at the last known address. It will help to hire a process server who is experienced in delivering domestic relations documents. The process server should make multiple attempts, at different times of the day, to deliver the documents to the other party. Make sure to give the process server a picture of the party, and if known a description of the vehicle they drive, so the process server knows who they are looking for. If they arrive at that address and no one is home to answer, ensure that you receive an affidavit or correspondence in writing from the process server indicating their attempts to serve the party.
  2. Send regular mail and certified mail to the last known address. Maybe the party is not answering the door because they do not recognize the process server or are purposely avoiding service. In that case, you should also send a copy of the divorce complaint to their last known address via regular mail and certified mail, restricted delivery. If you do not receive a signed certified mail receipt (indicating that they received the complaint), then you will have to do a little more.
  3. Reach out to the party’s family members and friends. It is possible that the address you are attempting to serve the party at is no longer their place of residence. However, the party’s family members or friends may know some information about where they are living or where they have gone. Sometimes family members or friends are unwilling to provide you with that information, but regardless, reaching out will show you have attempted to find others who may have information on the party’s location.
  4. Complete an internet search of records. A key indicator of where the party may be located could exist in records available to the public. This could include voter registration records, property records with the recorder of deeds, or even criminal/civil dockets with information on their address. In addition, a reverse phone lookup may provide information on the person’s address and contact info.
  5. Search by social media. It is not always the smartest decision to post on social media outlets if you are not trying to be found. However, if a party is posting on social media and tagging their location, this could provide some leads.
  6. Make additional efforts: You should also attempt to reach the party by electronic means, via telephone or email. This will ensure that you have exhausted all methods of contact to reach the party.
  7. Hire a private detective. If all else fails, it may be time to hire a professional to find the absent party. They will ensure an extensive investigation in their attempts to locate the party and issue a report on their own due diligence in locating the current whereabouts of the party.

In the end, it may be exhausting and somewhat expensive to go through all these efforts, but without doing so, the court may not grant your motion.

However, if you are able to prove you have done all that you can to find the party, and the court ultimately grants your motion, you will be that much closer to the finish line! The court will issue an order allowing you to publicize the notice of your divorce complaint, with the caption and the names of the parties involved, in a legal publication and a newspaper of general circulation. When the publication is issued, the service is deemed to be complete.

If you or someone you know is seeking a divorce, it will be wise to speak with an attorney first about what your options are and the best way to go about serving a party.