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To begin with, there is a big difference between having a spouse whom you have not seen for many years and a spouse who has disappeared (whose whereabouts are unknown, to use the accepted legal jargon). A spouse can disappear today and never be able to be found. On the other hand, you might have a spouse who left (or whom you left) twenty years ago or more but you may know that spouse’s current address, phone number and email address. I had a client separated from his spouse for 58 years, but they maintained contact. Accordingly, the length of separation time does not necessarily make a divorce difficult or expensive, but having no knowledge of how to contact your spouse can make a divorce exactly that, even if the spouse only left yesterday.

For a Pennsylvania LOW-COST divorce, your spouse’s cooperation is ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED no matter how long you have been apart. If you have heard, seen or read that after one year of separation that a divorce is automatic, that information is just plain wrong. (To find out why, go here: https://padivorce.com/when-will-my-pennsylvania-divorce-automatically-go-through/) For a low-cost divorce, a separation of one year means only that you will not have to have the 90-day waiting period in the middle of your divorce. For a low-cost divorce, you will need your spouse’s signature and there are ways to get that without knowing your spouse’s address. I go into detail about ways to do that here: https://padivorce.com/do-i-need-my-spouses-address-for-a-pennsylvania-divorce/

If you cannot (or simply choose not to) do what is necessary to get your spouse’s signature for a low-cost divorce, the first thing you will need is three to five thousand dollars in legal fees for an experienced local full-service law firm. If you have been separated less than one year, a no-fault divorce is not possible under Pennsylvania law without the written consent of both parties. Your options would be a fault divorce now or waiting for a total of twelve months of separation to pass, and, in either case, proceeding against a defendant whose whereabouts are unknown or purposely concealed. While both are expensive, waiting for twelve months to be completed would save some money and avoid the fault divorce’s requirement of a hearing in divorce court.

In the expensive divorce process, our courts have specific rules for proceeding against a defendant whose whereabouts are unknown or concealed and those rules demand time and money because it must be proved to the court’s satisfaction that every reasonable means of finding the defendant has been tried and then expensive advertisements are run in two newspapers and the defendant is given time to respond. The reason for all of this is that one cannot sue another person for divorce (or any other cause of action, such as a debt, for example) and expect the court to take your word that the defendant cannot be found. Were it the case otherwise, one could leave one’s uncooperative spouse today, go to court tomorrow claiming to have been separated over one year, and get divorced without the other party knowing anything about the divorce having been filed! In the USA, all defendants are entitled to their day in court unless the court is satisfied that the defendant really cannot be found… and I mean REALLY cannot be found.

So, if one has enough money – many thousands of dollars – and it can be proved to the court’s satisfaction that the defendant really cannot be found, a divorce is indeed possible…one just cannot get a low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault Pennsylvania divorce without the defendant spouse’s signature, even after fifty years of separation.