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The Moneyist: ‘He walked out on our marriage 2 years ago and disappeared’: How do I serve my missing husband with divorce papers? He owes me thousands of dollars


Dear Quentin,

I’m in the process of divorcing my husband. He walked out on our marriage two years ago and disappeared. He was going to help family in Pennsylvania and never returned home. We were in contact for a while and then nothing. We have no kids together.

Before I file my divorce papers, I want to speak to him and not blindside him. I plan on filing with the intent on getting spousal support. He owes me several thousand dollars. During our marriage of nine years, we agreed that he would return those funds to me.

I want to move past our life together, buy a home on my own and just be content again. I’m the one who’s worked a 9-5 job and, during our marriage, I sometimes held down two jobs. His income was sporadic, but he did have a business in the entertainment industry.

“‘I tried to support him, but eventually it got to be too much for me, and we lost everything in the process.’”

I tried to support him, but eventually it got to be too much for me, and we lost everything in the process. I have since gotten back on my feet. I’m stable and work an excellent job.

I was very angry at him for a long time. I have repaid most of the debt owed during our marriage, with no help from him and have finally resolved the issue for my own mental and physical health. It hurts, but I’m moving on. What’s past is past.

I want to file these papers soon before I buy anything else. I don’t want to give him what I have worked hard to earn. I’m not trying to be greedy, I just want what is owed to me and nothing else. I married for love and feel I got duped in the process.

He does have a lawyer he’s dealt with during our marriage and still uses this person due to his business ventures. Should I send my divorce papers to this lawyer given that this person seems to know his whereabouts?

Just Need Closure

Dear Closure,

Your relationship is certainly complicated. Your marriage is in suspended animation and it prevents you from that thing we all seek — closure. I’m impressed by your magnanimity, and how you are largely at peace with all that has gone before. 

If you appeal to your husband’s lawyer, he may pass on your request. Unfortunately, the kind of man of who will run out on his wife and leave debts behind is the kind of man who will always think twice about doing the right thing.

As the late Tammy Faye Bakker — a televangelist who arguably had terrible taste in mentold interviewers, “You’ll ruin your life if you live in the past. It’s not what happens in your life, it’s how you react to it.” Amen to that.

“The kind of man of who will run out on his wife and leave debts behind is the kind of man who will always think twice about doing the right thing.”

Cary Mogerman, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and principal at Carmody Macdonald law firm, says there are ways to file for divorce if your husband is missing, and shows no sign of returning.

“It does happen, and it is frustrating,” he says. However, you will likely have to wait for a financial and property settlement. “It would be a rare situation where you could serve someone else in lieu of your husband,” Mogerman adds.

Your attorney will advise you on the laws in your state, but Motion to Serve by Publication or Posting is one way of filing for divorce — usually by publishing a notice of your divorce in a legal newspaper or posting a notice in the courthouse.

There was even a case in New York a few years ago where a Manhattan Supreme Court Justice granted permission to a New York-based nurse to serve her estranged husband with a divorce summons through a private message on Facebook FB, -5.14%.

Given his own financial history, it’s unlikely your husband will be in the position to provide you with spousal support, and the money he owes will probably be considered joint debt and/or simply money you gifted him during your marriage. 

There’s no possibility of blindsiding somebody who absconded. It should come as a shock to him if you didn’t want a divorce. You have not factored into his decision making. The time has come to play hardball with your lawyer, and put yourself first. 

Yocan email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

• I live with my girlfriend, 59, who owns several homes and has saved $3 million. I pay utilities and cable, and do lots of repairs. Is that enough?
• ‘He is the most computer-illiterate person I know’: I was my husband’s research analyst, caregiver, cook and housekeeper. Now he wants a divorce after 38 years.
• ‘Our friends always yearned for a relationship like ours’: My husband of 16 years left me for another man. I don’t want them to live in our properties. What can I do?

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