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Service by Publication (when you can't find the other parent)

This article tells you how to serve the other parent by publication.

For the instructions and forms combined for publication in a divorce with children, click here. 

For instructions and forms combined for publication in a family matter other than divorce with children, click here.  

I’m filing a court case involving a child. Do I have to notify the other parent?

Yes. The law says anyone who files a case involving a child (such as a divorce with children, a paternity case, a suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR), or a name change of a child) must serve each parent.

What if I can’t find the other parent?

If you cannot find the other parent, you may be able to serve by having the notice published in a newspaper.

To serve by publication, you must take a number of steps. These steps will significantly delay your case but they are required.

How hard do I have to look for the other parent?

Before serving by publication, the law says you must make a diligent search for the other parent. This means you must look really hard for the other parent, even if the other parent has not been involved in your child’s life.

Use the steps set out in the Affidavit for Citation by Publication (in a Divorce with Children) form or the Affidavit for Citation by Publication (Other) as a guide when looking for the other parent. You should also use common sense. A diligent search must include the steps someone who really wants to find the other parent would take.

What are the risks of serving by publication?

When you serve by publication, the other parent may not actually find out about your case. Because of this, the law says the other parent has 2 years to ask for a new trial.

In addition, if the other parent can show that you did not look hard enough before serving by publication, he or she may be able to get a new trial no matter how much time has passed.

If you have questions, it’s important to talk with a lawyer before serving by publication.

Do I have to hire an attorney to look for the other parent?

Yes. When serving by publication, the law says you must hire an attorney to look for the other parent. This attorney is called an attorney ad litem.

The attorney ad litem makes an independent search for the other parent. This protects the other parent’s right to be notified about the case. You are responsible for locating, hiring, and paying for the attorney ad litem.

How do I serve by publication?

Below are forms for a divorce with children (Set A) and forms for if your case is not a divorce (Set B)

To serve by publication in a divorce with children, fill out the following forms (Set A):

This form tells the judge that even though you made a diligent search, you could not find the other side. Fill it out completely and sign it in front of a notary.

This form tells the judge you want to serve by publication. Fill it out completely and sign it.

In some counties, you may need a court order before the clerk will issue citation by publication. If needed, use the Order on Citation by Publication (in a Divorce with Children) to ask for a court order. You will ask the judge to sign this form to order you to serve by publication. Fill it out completely except for the judge’s signature.

To serve by publication if you are not asking the court for a divorce, fill out the following forms (Set B):

This form tells the judge that even though you made a diligent search, you could not find the other side. Fill it out completely and sign it in front of a notary.

This form tells the judge you want to serve by publication. Fill it out completely and sign it.

In some counties, you may need a court order before the clerk will issue citation by publication. If needed, use the Order on Citation by Publication (Other) to ask for a court order. You will ask the judge to sign this form to order you to serve by publication. Fill it out completely except for the judge’s signature.

Take the completed Affidavit for Citation by Publication and Motion for Citation by Publication forms and at least one copy of each to the clerk’s office where you filed the Petition in your case. The clerk will keep the original, stamp your copies, and give the copies back to you.

Note: If your county requires a court order before the clerk will issue citation, ask the clerk when you can give your proposed Order on Motion for Citation by Publication (called Order for short) to the judge. You may be able to see the judge that day. Or, you may have to come back another day. Read the article TIPS for the Courtroom for information about going to court. After the judge has signed your Order, turn in the signed Order at the clerk’s office. Get a file-stamped copy of the Order for your records.

Tell the clerk you need to serve by publication. Ask the clerk, constable or sheriff to send the citation to a newspaper in the county where you filed your case. If you’re filing a divorce, the citation should also be published in the county where any land or house owned by you and your spouse is located. Pay the newspaper. (Research the cost ahead of time.)

The clerk, constable, or sheriff will then fill out a Return of Citation (this says when the notice was published). Make sure the Return of Citation is filed in the clerk’s office.

How do I finish my case?

Hire the attorney ad litem to look for the other parent. If the attorney cannot find the other parent, set a date to meet the attorney at court to finish your case. Fill out these forms and bring them with you to court:

Note: If you or the attorney ad litem find the other parent, you cannot serve the other parent by publication. See How to Serve the Initial Divorce Papers or How to Serve the Initial Court Papers (Family Law).