Divorce Application: What to Do If Your Spouse Cannot be Found
When one spouse (known as the Plaintiff) files for divorce, a writ for divorce will be issued by the court. This writ has to be brought to the attention of the other spouse (known as the Defendant), and is done by way of personal service, where a copy of the writ will be personally handed to the Defendant by authorised persons such as a process server.
However, what happens if the Defendant refuses to open the door to accept service, or can no longer be found at his or her place of residence such that it is not possible for the personal service to take effect?
Depending on the situation, the Plaintiff may apply to the court for:
- An order of substituted service: or
- Service to be dispensed with.
Order for Substituted Service
An order for substituted service is applied by way of summons with a supporting affidavit. In the affidavit, the Plaintiff should state reasons why he or she believes that the proposed mode of substituted service will bring the writ to the Defendant’s notice.
The contents of the affidavits will thus vary depending on the mode of substituted service the Plaintiff applies for.
Which Mode of Substituted Service You Should Apply for
If the Plaintiff knows of the Defendant’s whereabouts and/or is able to find out the Defendant’s address or email address (such as through asking relatives or friends), the Plaintiff may apply for substituted service by way of:
- AR registered post
- Electronic means such as email
- Posting on the front door at the Defendant’s last known residential address in Singapore
Before the application for substituted service is made, the Plaintiff should first make 2 reasonable attempts at personal service. An example of reasonable attempt at personal service can be visiting the Defendant last known residential address.
After two reasonable attempts at personal service is made, the Plaintiff can then proceed to apply for substituted service and include in his or her affidavits relevant information pertaining to the mode of substituted service.
Prepaid AR Registered Post/Ordinary Post
The Plaintiff should explain why he or she believes that the Defendant is currently resident at that address, or if the address is an overseas address, why the Plaintiff believes that the Defendant is not ordinarily resident in Singapore.
Electronic Means such as Email
The Plaintiff should show that the email account belongs to the Defendant and that it is currently active.
Posting on the Front Door of the Defendant’s Last Known Residential Address in Singapore
If personal service was attempted and was unsuccessful, the Plaintiff needs to provide information to the court on:
- The dates, times and outcomes of the attempts at personal service, and why the Plaintiff believes that such attempts made were reasonable
- Evidence that the Defendant is currently residing at the address where personal service was attempted, e.g. relevant search results from the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore, the Singapore Land Authority, the Housing & Development Board or the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority
- Reasons for believing that the Defendant is currently residing at that address, e.g. the Plaintiff is also residing at the same address and sees the Defendant there every day
If the Plaintiff is not able to do the above, the Plaintiff should make attempts to find out the Defendant’s current place of residence by contacting the Defendant’s relatives, friends, and employer(s), and include:
- The date of the Plaintiff’s last contact with the Defendant, the mode of contact and the contents of any communication made
- The names and addresses of the Defendant’s relatives and friends, their relationship to the Defendant and whether they live in Singapore or overseas
- Details of the Plaintiff’s attempts to contact the Defendant’s relatives and friends, including the number of attempts, the dates, mode and the contents of any communication made
- The name and address of the Defendant’s last known employer (if any), and the result of the Plaintiff’s enquiries as to the Defendant’s whereabouts, including the date of such enquiries, the mode and the contents of any communications made.
- Details of the Defendant’s nationality
If the Plaintiff manages to obtain the Defendant’s local address after carrying out the steps above, the Plaintiff should then make two reasonable attempts at personal service, and include:
- Details of the dates, times and outcomes of the attempts at personal service
- If the process server is told that the Defendant “is overseas”, evidence as to what date the Defendant will be back in the country
- If it appears that the Defendant is permanently overseas, evidence as to how the documents will come to the Defendant’s attention by being posted on the front door
If the process server is told that the Defendant “moved away” and the Plaintiff wishes to allege that the Defendant is evading service, evidence to support the Plaintiff’s belief that the Defendant is evading service is required.
If the Plaintiff does not know where the Defendant is located and is unable to find out the Defendant’s location by any means even after contacting his or her relatives, friends and employer(s), the Plaintiff may apply for substituted service by way of advertisement.
This can be achieved by furnishing information by satisfying the court on:
- The Defendant’s level of literacy and in what language
- If the advertisement is to be placed in one issue of the Straits Times and one issue of one of the main non-English language newspapers, evidence that the Defendant is literate in the language of this newspaper
If the Plaintiff seeks to place the advertisement in an overseas newspaper, the reasons why the Plaintiff believes that the Defendant is in that country.
When will Dispensation of Service be Granted?
In the event that all attempts by substituted service have been exhausted, the court will allow for a dispensation of service if they are satisfied that all attempts at service as mentioned above is futile. This can occur if the Plaintiff can show to the court that he does not know which country the Defendant is residing in and advertising would not be effective.
Although this article has attempted to simplify the legal process, it is still a complex legal procedure that is not easily navigable. It is thus advisable to find a divorce lawyer so that he/she may assist you in navigating through the numerous steps involved in divorce proceedings.
You can also read our other article should you require any guidance on divorce fees in Singapore.
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