Serving Clients in Knox, Blount, Anderson, Loudon, Sevier & Roane Counties

Service by Publication: What If I Can’t Find My Spouse?

People sometimes leave their spouses for reasons that lead to separating for a long period of time before filing for divorce. During that time, you may not have any contact with your spouse. This is often the case if that spouse was abusive, an addict, or in jail. The good news is that, in a case where you can’t find your spouse, you can still get a divorce. However, there is more work to do to try to find the spouse. Anytime someone files for divorce, the other spouse must be served with the divorce complaint. This is much easier to do when you know where the other spouse is located. If you don’t know where to find your spouse, there is still an option to move forward: service by publication according to T.C.A. § 21-1-204.


Tennessee requires that you diligently search for the other spouse in good faith. At the Held Law Firm, we tend to do the following during our search:

  • run a background check
  • contact family members or friends of the spouse when appropriate
  • contact the spouse’s last known employer when appropriate
  • search prison/jail records
  • attempt service at the person’s last known address

It is important that we at least attempt service to demonstrate our diligent search. If none of our sleuthing finds the person, we move on to the next step.


Because Tennessee requires a good faith diligent search for the person, your attorney’s efforts to find the person must be documented in an affidavit (a document to which the person swears the statements are true under oath) to include with a motion for service by publication. Filing a motion for service by publication is essentially telling the court that you cannot find the person you want to divorce even though you have tried. You are requesting permission to notify that person by running an ad in a newspaper. That ad or notice must run for at least 4 weeks in a newspaper local to the person’s last known whereabouts. The wording of the ad must include the court where the divorce was filed and must be approved by the court.


Once the court-approved notice or ad runs in the approved newspaper for the 4 weeks and there is still no word from the person, you can file a motion for a default judgment to obtain a divorce.

If you are in search of a Knoxville divorce lawyer, please give us a call at (865) 685-4780 to set up a consult.

Leah Smith is an attorney at Held Law Firm.