Divorce Application: What to Do If Your Spouse Cannot be Found

Last updated on January 9, 2024

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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:

  1. An order of substituted service: or
  2. 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:

  • Prepaid Advice of Receipt (AR) registered post/ordinary post
  • Electronic means such as email and Singpass App Inbox
  • Posting on the front door at the Defendant’s last known residential address in Singapore
  • Advertisement

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 Advice of Receipt (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 and Singpass App Inbox

For substituted service via email, the Plaintiff should show that the email account belongs to the Defendant and that it is currently active.

As of 1 September 2022, an additional electronic method to effect substituted service of court documents via the Singpass App Inbox has been introduced on the eLitigation platform by the Singapore Courts.

However, as only subscribers of the eLitigation platform can opt for this new method, you may wish to engage a law firm that can do so on your behalf. Upon opting for this new method, the defendant will receive a “push” notification through the Singpass app Inbox in the “For Action” category, informing the recipient of the service of court documents.

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.


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.

Should you require any guidance on divorce fees in Singapore, click here.

Before getting a divorce
  1. Drafting a Deed of Separation in Singapore (Instead of Divorcing)
  2. Alternatives to Divorce in Singapore: A Practical Guide
  3. Process for Getting Divorced in Singapore (With Diagram)
  4. What are the Legal Grounds for Getting a Divorce?
  5. 3 Finance Questions To Ask Before a Divorce
  6. Practical Preparations for a Divorce
  7. How to Divorce Within 3 Years of Marriage in Singapore
  8. Getting Divorced: Documents and Evidence to Prepare
  9. Getting a Divorce Due to “Irreconcilable Differences” in Singapore
  10. Online Divorce in Singapore: How It Works and Should You Get One?
  11. How Can I Divorce Overseas After Marrying in Singapore?
Divorce Fees
  1. Comprehensive Guide to Divorce Fees in Singapore
Getting a Divorce Lawyer
  1. 7 Experienced Female Divorce Lawyers in Singapore (2024)
  2. Can a Divorcing Couple Use the Same Lawyer? Pros and Cons
  3. 7 Best Divorce and Family Lawyers in Singapore (2024)
  4. The Complete Guide to Choosing a Good Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  5. Don’t Just Go for the Cheapest Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  6. Find Highly Rated Divorce Lawyers in Singapore
  7. Child Custody Lawyers in Singapore: Do I Need One?
Proving Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage
  1. How to Prove Adultery for Divorce Purposes in Singapore
  2. Getting a Divorce: How to Prove Desertion
  3. Getting a Divorce by Mutual Agreement in Singapore
  4. How to Prove Unreasonable Behaviour in a Singapore Divorce
  5. How to Prove Separation for a Singapore Divorce
Application for Divorce Part I: Dissolution of Marriage
  1. Your Spouse Doesn't Want to Divorce: What to Do
  2. Procedure for Dissolution of Marriage
  3. Simplified Uncontested Divorce vs Contested Divorce in Singapore
  4. Mandatory Parenting Programme Guide for Divorcing Parents
  5. Divorce Mediation in Singapore
  6. Divorce Application: What to Do If Your Spouse Cannot be Found
Application for Divorce Part 2: Ancillary Matters (Maintenance, Assets, Custody)
  1. Contempt of Court in Divorce: When You Can be Punished
  2. Guide to Co-Parenting for Divorcing Parents in Singapore
  3. Procedure for Ancillary Matters
  4. Maintenance of Spouse in a Singapore Divorce
  5. Filling in a Matrimonial Property Plan for a Singapore Divorce
  6. Dividing Matrimonial Assets in a Singapore Divorce
  7. What Happens to Your HDB Flat after Divorce?
  8. What Happens to Gifts Between Spouses During a Divorce?
  9. What Happens to Property and Assets Located Overseas Upon a Divorce in Singapore?
  10. Child Custody, Care and Control & Access: Singapore Guide
  11. Getting Divorced: Child Maintenance in Singapore
  12. Singapore Divorcee's Guide to Relocating Your Child Overseas
  1. How to Vary a Child Custody Order in Singapore
  2. How to Appeal Your Divorce Case in Singapore
  3. Divorce Certs in Singapore: How to Get a Copy and Other FAQs
  4. Transfer of Matrimonial Home to Ex-Spouse After Divorce
  5. Can Divorcees Buy or Rent HDB Flats, and How?
  6. What to Do If Your Ex-Spouse Does Not Provide Maintenance
  7. How to Vary a Maintenance Order After a Singapore Divorce
  8. What to Do If Your Ex-Spouse Denies You Access to Your Child
  9. Division of CPF Assets (Monies, House, Investments) After a Divorce
Expatriate Divorce
  1. Divorce for British Expats: Spousal Maintenance Under the Law of England and Wales
  2. Settling Ancillary Matters in Singapore After Foreign Divorce
  3. Typical issues in Singapore/England Divorces
  4. Immigration Issues for Divorcing Expatriates
  5. Can Foreigners Divorce in Singapore?
  6. Expat or Foreigner Divorce in Singapore: 10 Legal Issues to Consider
  7. Hague Convention: Overseas Child Abduction in Singapore Divorce
  8. Case Study: Cross-Border Child Custody and the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction
  9. Can British Expats in Singapore Choose to Divorce in England?
  10. Divorce for British Expats: Approach to Matrimonial and Non-Matrimonial Assets in England vs Singapore
  11. Divorce for British Expats: How the English Courts Deal with Financial Matters
Muslim or Syariah Divorce
  1. Fasakh in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore: Grounds & Process
  2. Divorce by Cerai Taklik: Guide for Muslim Wives in Singapore
  3. Muslim Divorce in Singapore
  4. Talak in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore (and Its Effects)
  5. Guide to Divorcing by Khuluk for Muslim Wives in Singapore
  6. Applying for Nafkah Idaah and Mutaah in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore
Other divorce matters
  1. Guide to Personal Protection Orders in Singapore
  2. Case Study - Love conquers All: The Divorce That Didn’t Happen
  1. Annulling a Singapore Marriage: Requirements and Process
  2. What Happens to Your HDB Flat After an Annulment?
  1. Separation in Singapore Via Deed of Separation and More
  2. Judicial or Legal Separation in Singapore: When and How to File
Prenuptial and Post-Nuptial Agreements
  1. Prenuptial Agreements in Singapore
  2. Should You Make a Post-Nuptial Agreement in Singapore?