Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)

Wife Divorces Husband Without His Knowledge

Can a spouse “secretly” divorce their mate without that person knowing that it’s happening? Well, it could happen in Missouri and has happened somewhere else, apparently, based on email I received from a reader.


Kristin wrote as follows:


“My brother recently let me know that his wife divorced him last October, unbeknownst to him.


“Last March (2007), it seemed they hit the end of their ropes with each other. She filed for divorce, he consulted with a lawyer and prepared to respond; then she said ‘I want to work it out’. They moved into a house and have been playing the ‘normal family’ since last June 1st.


“Apparently she never withdrew her petition and there was a court date in October that my brother never knew about. A few days after the court date, at which she was present, she took him out to dinner and announced ‘We’re divorced.’


“She has taken everything material in the home, obtained full custody of their girl, and also got child support. My brother did, just within the 6-month time frame from the October court date, get a lawyer and make some sort of motion regarding the decree.


“(Now) she has regrets and wants to pretend it didn’t happen and get remarried. They haven’t told the children anything.”


I must admit that after reading of this tale the first time, I was a dubious. Could all of this have happened under this poor guy’s nose without him being the wiser? But, as I pieced together how it might have unfolded, I realized that whether by accident, or clever planning on the wife’s part, this scenario probably unfolded pretty much as my reader related. Here is how such a “secret” divorce could occur in Missouri:


Once the wife filed the dissolution petition, her husband would have been served the papers, most likely by the sheriff’s office. Any person eighteen years or older living at home with the father could accept the papers on his behalf, except for the person filing for the divorce. As anyone who has raised a college-age kid can easily appreciate, it’s not difficult to imagine a nineteen year-old receiving the papers while hard-wired to his/her I-Pod and tossing them aside, never to be found again.


In this case, though, the husband apparently knew of the filing because he talked to a lawyer. But, once served, he had 30 days to make a formal response with the court or be found in default. Apparently, he never responded because he likely thought that his wife had dropped the petition when she offered to reconcile and they resumed living together.


Once in default, the court has no duty to communicate with him again about any motions before it or any hearings or court dates. Also, it’s apparent that the husband didn’t retain the lawyer he consulted, probably because he believed his wife was dropping the case. Once a lawyer is retained in Missouri, he or she must enter their appearance with the court and they would receive all future communications. Most assuredly, his lawyer would have advised him that absent a formal withdrawal and dismissal by the wife via a printed notice from the court, the husband would have to respond to the petition.


Now that the husband is in default, there was very little left for the wife to do. She would have already filed all the required paperwork—statement of property, statement of income and expense, proposed parenting plan, etc.—along with her petition. And, once the court found the husband in default, her attorney would have filed a “Default and Inquiry” and asked for a final hearing date.


Next week, I’ll relate what I think happened at that hearing and what options were available to the husband once he learned that his marriage had been dissolved.