How can a person who is homeless file for and obtain a divorce in the US? I have been separated from my husband for over a year, I have no way to contact him, and soon may be facing homelessness again. Shelters are not an option. How can someone living in their vehicle file for and obtain a divorce?
Family Law Attorney
Important disclaimer: I am licensed to practice law in Oregon, not in Tennessee. So I can't give specific advice on Tennessee law and court procedures. This is just general commentary about typical laws; you should consult with an attorney in your state.
I'm sorry you're in such an appallingly bad situation. Not knowing where your husband is, will likely be a bigger barrier to you than being homeless. When you file papers with the court, including a petition for divorce, you typically need to list your address, so that you can receive updates on your case in the mail. You will need to have some kind of valid mailing address to file anything. I don't know if TN law allows you to use a P.O. box, but you might be able to do that, or use a friend or family member's address.
If you want to take legal action against your husband, though, you need to have him served with the petition that you file with the court. If you really have no idea where he is, then that is obviously very difficult. Some states allow service 'by publication' - once you demonstrate that you don't know where the person is, then you can take out an ad in a local newspaper, around where they used to be, notifying them of the case. After you published the ad for a month, they're deemed to have been served. This is the only real way to serve someone if you have no idea where they are. But it's quite expensive - you'd do better to spend that money on getting a place to stay. In any case, you can't take court action against anyone without notifying them that you're doing it. This is what is meant by 'due process' - a court can't make a ruling that affects someone's rights without giving them notice that it's happening, and a chance to argue about it.
I don't know why you say that 'shelters are not an option.' You're definitely going to need some help. There may be resources available to you. You can start looking at http://www.homelesscoalition.org/ or http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/cgi-bin/id/city.cgi?city=Chattanooga&state=TN or http://www.chattanoogarescuemission.com/ .
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Divorce / Separation Lawyer
I am licensed in Tennessee and I can tell you that the Hamilton County Circuit Court has a packet of forms and basic instructions for people who want to do their own divorce. They will not give you legal advice but they will give you the forms to do it yourself. You can request an Affidavit of Indigency at their office and that might get the filing fees waived. The Hamilton County Circuit Court is located at: 500 Courthouse, 625 Georgia Avenue, Chattanooga, TN 37402, PHONE-423-209-6700, FAX 423-209-6701. You could also call Legal Aid or Southeast Tennessee Legal Services. Their services are free but they rarely handle divorce matters. They might be able to help you fill out the forms I mentioned previously if nothing else. Best of luck.
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