Where the Defendant cannot be physically located, the Plaintiff can file for divorce by making the following applications: substituted service or dispensation of service

spouse cannot be found


Can you file for a divorce if your spouse cannot be found?


We meet a lot of clients whose spouses cannot be found or have disappeared.  Many of these cases involved foreign spouses who have walked out of the family to go back to their home country without leaving their contact details.  In such a situation,  our clients wish to know whether they can still file for a divorce even though their spouse cannot be located.

The short answer is “yes, you can still file for divorce even if your spouse cannot be found.”

The default method to initiate divorce proceedings is by personal service. This means that a spouse (“Plaintiff”) must serve the court documents on the other spouse (“Defendant”) by hand so that the proceedings will be brought to the Defendant’s attention.

However, in situations where the Defendant cannot be found, the Plaintiff can file for divorce by making the following applications:

  1. Substituted service
  2. Dispensation of service

The divorce will then proceed on an uncontested basis unless the Defendant responds.


How to apply for substituted service?

If your spouse is missing and cannot be found, you will need to apply for substituted service. The application for both modes of service is made by summons with a supporting affidavit. The contents that the Plaintiff should include in the affidavit will vary according to the mode of service applied for. However, the supporting affidavit should generally include the following:

  • Information regarding the Plaintiff’s last contact with the Defendant;
  • Information as to whether the Plaintiff knows any of the Defendant’s relatives and friends. The Plaintiff should also state whether the relatives and friends are able to locate the Defendant;
  • Whether the Plaintiff had tried to contact Defendant;
  • The details of the Defendant’s last known employer. The Plaintiff should also include whether enquiries had been made to the employer regarding the Defendant’s location; and
  • The Defendant’s nationality.


Examples of substituted service

With substituted service, the Plaintiff will be able to initiate divorce proceedings without serving the necessary documents on the Defendant personally. Substituted service should only be applied for after the Plaintiff makes two attempts at personal service. Besides posting on the front door of the Defendant’s last known address, other examples of substituted service on a missing spouse include:


  1. Electronic mail (“email”)

In the affidavit, the Plaintiff should show that the email account is active and it belongs to the Defendant.


  1. Advertisement

In the affidavit, the Plaintiff must specify the Defendant’s preferred language and literacy in that language. If it is necessary to advertise in an overseas newspaper, the Plaintiff should explain why is it necessary to do so in the affidavit as well.


  1. AR registered post or ordinary post

The Plaintiff is required to explain his belief that the Defendant resides at the address in the affidavit. If posting to an overseas address, the Plaintiff is required to state that the Defendant does not ordinarily reside in Singapore.


How to apply for service to be dispensed with?

An application may be made to the Court to dispense with service when all the modes of substituted service mentioned above have been exhausted. In the affidavit, the Plaintiff must provide the details mentioned in (a) to (e) above. Further, the Plaintiff must also explain in the affidavit that it is impractical to advertise the proceedings given that the location of the Defendant is unknown.

How our family lawyers can help you

At PKWA Law, our family lawyers can assist you to obtain your divorce even if your spouse cannot be found.   Our divorce lawyers have the experience to guide you through the court process without undue delay.  The court requries substantial and relevant information to enable it to issue a divorce order when a  spouse cannot be located.  We can help you with this process.



singapore divorce lawyers

At PKWA Law, our team of Family Lawyers are consistently named as leading Singapore family lawyers by respected independent legal publications such as Asian Legal Business, Singapore Business Review, Global Law Experts and Doyle’s Guide to Singapore Family Lawyers. 

Contact us at tel 6854-5336 for a free first consultation. 


Divorce Process in Singapore


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