Can't find the wife.
December 7, 2009 9:13 PM   Subscribe

How can I find out if I am still married?

Back in a previous century, this Canadian guy was living with a student from overseas. (It was a standard boyfriend-girlfriend situation, lest someone assume that marrying someone from abroad is only an immigration scam or a mail-order bride deal.) When the end of her visa was approaching, things went south in her homeland and she would have been in danger due to her ethnicity, and the best short-term answer I could find to help her stay here was to marry her. We went to city hall with some witnesses and said the words.

Everything was fine, and two things happened subsequently: the situation in her homeland calmed down, and we drifted apart. First we were together, then we were living separately, then work took me away to a different city. We lost touch. She had my contact info but didn't use it. When I came back to town a few months later, she had moved from her last address and the people she had been living with said they had no forwarding address.

This was over ten years ago. Since then I have consulted with friends in both the RCMP and the Canadian Border Services Agency but they have no records of her. I have contacted every mutual friend we had, and no one has heard from her. Fifty or more Google searches for every variation of her name (including with my surname) have turned up nothing. And my final attempt (friends living in her home country) report that my last hope for contact, her parents, are no longer at that address and indeed there is no one under that last name in any phone directories for that city.

At this point, I am either still married to someone I have not seen in a decade, or divorced, or a widower. How do I find out which? If I want to get married again, I do not wish to commit inadvertent bigamy.

I realize that this question could be construed as asking for advice on stalking someone, but there is honestly no unpleasantness in our history together. We grew apart and split up amiably... if I never see her again, I am fine with that, but I just want to know if I can move on with my life. And while I know YANML: if I cannot locate her and must assume we are still married, how does one start divorce proceedings in the absence of one's spouse?

Throwaway e-mail at
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
In the United States a person who has not seen or heard from his spouse over a given length of time can petition the courts to grant him a divorce. I imagine the length of time and other criteria varies by state.

I would contact an attorney in your province who works in Canadian family law and pose these questions to him.
posted by dfriedman at 9:16 PM on December 7, 2009

Seems like you should hire a private investigator to see if they can locate any record of her. I know you've made every effort to find her yourself, but the PI may have additional resources to use.

Or just see a lawyer and maybe they'll roll the PI work in as part of their services.
posted by chiababe at 9:18 PM on December 7, 2009

Knowing what province you're in could help us point you at appropriate resources. For instance, in British Columbia, substituted service is the way to go.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:25 PM on December 7, 2009

ifty or more Google searches for every variation of her name (including with my surname) have turned up nothing.

Have you tried looking in social networks? Like a search IN facebook?
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:49 PM on December 7, 2009

I don't know about Canada, but I'm guessing it isn't far off from most of the US in this respect. You can generally (big generally you need to hire a real live attorney to help you and get specific advice about your case) divorce a spouse in their absence by either essentially proving they are dead/missing or that they have abandoned you.

I don't know which will be easier for you in your situation and your jurisdiction, but the short answer is yes you can likely divorce her in her absence, the long answer will come when you hire an attorney. Good luck.
posted by whoaali at 10:19 PM on December 7, 2009

I think you are married until you get some legal document that says you are not. Lawyer up.
posted by caddis at 10:38 PM on December 7, 2009

I am a lawyer, but not your lawyer. Also, I am not a family lawyer of any description, and I'm only licensed in California. This is not legal advice.

That said, getting a divorce in the absence of your spouse is possible in most jurisdictions, and I'd see a lawyer before spending real money to find her, because she seems pretty well out of circulation. Usually to serve people who can't be found, they'll ask you to place an ad in the Legal Notices section of the classifieds, and if there's no response, the other party presumably isn't around. (There is almost never any response.)

I'd recommend you hire an attorney, tell them the story, and ask how to proceed. The best way to find a lawyer is to ask family, friends, or co-workers for recommendations. You could also see if your jurisdiction's law society has information on finding a lawyer, a legal referral service, or a directory of such services--for example, in Ontario, the Law Society of Upper Canada runs one that will find you a lawyer for $6. I don't know of any in the States where you have to pay, so maybe there's a free one near you.

Good luck!
posted by tellumo at 11:03 PM on December 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

In addition to the fact that you can divorce someone in absentia, you might also consider going the route of having her declared dead. In most US jurisdictions, if someone hasn't been seen or heard from in seven years there is a legal presumption that they have died.

A lawyer will be able to talk to you about which tactic would be more advantageous.

This is probably going to cost you a few hundred bucks, but it is probably worth it in the long run. Whether or not one is married is a pretty glaring loose end to have hanging around.
posted by valkyryn at 5:37 AM on December 8, 2009

Yeah, if you don't have a paper dissolving your marriage, you're still married. It doesn't just automatically happen. And that is a big complication to your life going forward. Particularly if you wanted to marry someone else.

But yes, getting a divorce should be a pretty trivial matter. The basic requirement is that you have been separated, meaning not cohabiting, for some period of time. That period depends on your jurisdiction and various other factors, such as whether there are children or not. But by and large, the spread is six months to a year. If you haven't seen or heard from her in 10 years, then it's pretty clear cut.

You'll need a lawyer, who will help you file a complaint for divorce. Efforts will have to be made to serve your wife so she can either agree or contest the proceeding. These efforts will presumably fail. At that point, a final request for divorce will be made before the courts and should be pretty straightforward. My guess is it should take two, three months and cost you a few hundred dollars.
posted by Naberius at 7:33 AM on December 8, 2009

The LSUC referral service is the one you want, $6 notwithstanding.

I wouldn't go and try to get someone declared dead, though, if all you need to do is divorce them...
posted by onshi at 7:38 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and re valkyryn's suggestion of having her declared dead, the distinction there is that you'd be a widower instead of divorced. That might be important if there were some question of her having an estate for you to inherit, but it doesn't sound like that's the case.

I'm not all that familiar with having someone declared dead, but I can't imagine that it wouldn't be more complicated and time consuming than a divorce. Particularly since you have no reason to think that she is dead. You just can't track her down.
posted by Naberius at 7:38 AM on December 8, 2009

All of the above, but I want to comment on the timing of all this. Your original post doesn't sound very urgent so I am thinking that you might or might not pursue this either now or sometime later in the future and it's no big deal either way.

My recommendation is to start pursuing it now rather than later. Even if you are not thinking about getting married now, if you ever get to that point it will be much easier if all of this is already taken care of. I had friends who decided to get married, but the wife-to-be was still entangled* with her ex-husband, which meant she couldn't get married again. The entanglement was very long ago but she just never got around to working it out. Once she got involved with her new husband-to-be, they had to wait a lot longer than they would have liked while she got untangled. She ended up getting pregnant before it got resolved; made a big mess.

So get started now to resolve your issue, even if you think it's not a big deal now; it could be a big deal later.

* In my friends' case, it was a religious issue dealing with annulment in the Catholic Church, not a legal issue; but the advice still applies.
posted by CathyG at 9:28 AM on December 8, 2009

Have you tried Pipl? It pulls up addresses, criminal records etc that are public record, but may not necessarily come up in Google, along with social network profiles. Just a thought.
posted by caveat at 9:40 AM on December 8, 2009

follow-up from the OP
Thanks to everyone for your input. With regard to questions put to me above: yes, I have looked on social networking websites and no luck (I have even gone to Google Images and entered her somewhat unusal first name to see if she might have a picture up online somewhere). Further, I live in Ontario for what that is worth.

I am reluctant to try to have her declared dead... as Naberius says, I have no reason to believe she is and it would almost certainly turn out to be more costly for me and more inconvenient for her (assuming she is not). I am certainly not concerned about getting a share of her estate. When last we spoke, she was a student and pretty broke. Anything she has accrued since then, I don't think I have any moral claim on.

And no, I didn't believe that I would just magically cease being married if I didn't see her for a while. Just as I am planning to divorce her in absentia now, I am wondering if I can find out if she divorced me in absentia a year ago or something. Sorry if that was not so clear.

And thanks to tellumo especially for the LSUC referral service link. This seems to be exactly what I am looking for and I had not known about it before today. I would mark it as best answer if I could.
posted by jessamyn at 9:52 AM on December 8, 2009

Could you contact the Canadian embassy in your wife's home country? They might have resources in that country that were not available to your friends.
posted by shiny blue object at 9:54 AM on December 8, 2009

You can try searching local government databases in places you think she might live, if you have any idea where that might be. E.g. property records or legal databases (for other marriage records, name changes, etc...). Those have a lot of information which does not usually turn up on google. Also you might have some luck checking credit info.

There is a LOT of info available online about people, beyond what you can find on Google, and I doubt that she has stayed entirely off the grid if she stayed in Canada.
posted by ropeladder at 11:02 AM on December 8, 2009

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