When you file your petition for divorce with the court, since your wife's whereabouts are unknown (somewhere in NY), she can be served by publication. Service by publication is running the notice of your divorce petition in the legal notices section of the newspaper. The amount of time the notice has to run for it to be valid service by publication varies from state to state. The court clerk at the court where you file your petition for divorce can tell you how long the notice has to run in the newspaper for it to be valid service by publication. Even if your wife never sees the notice in the newspaper, it is still valid service by publication. If you need anything additional feel free to contact my office anytime at 732-797-2400.
You may need to serve her through publication. Remaining married to her may hold you liable for certain things and be against your best interest. You will have to deal with this sooner or later. You may as well start. Ow.
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Serving your wife with the divorce papers is going to be the difficult part. My contact information is on my profile if you wish to discuss this matter further.
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I'm very surprised that none of the other answers indicated what will be involved. If you can't locate her, you will need to file a motion and obtain a judge's permission before you can proceed via publication.
It can be tricky, and many judges have different standards for the hoops you'll have to jump through to provide you diligently tried to locate her. When the judge approves it, you'll publish a notice in the newspaper and that will be considered "service" of the complaint.
It's probably easier and quicker to do this through counsel - it shouldn't cost much if the terms are uncontested and if there are no issues.
To make the job easier for the attorney (and therefore cheaper for you), do your "homework" now on locating her - ask relatives (in writing and email), run internet searches, etc... do everything you can to prove you tried to find her. As I said, different judges require different things to prove you exhausted all efforts before they'll let you proceed via publication.
You don't have to hire a lawyer to do this - there are sample forms on the judiciary's website: http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/prose/index.htm . Only you can weigh out the cost versus the time and emotional cost of proceeding yourself. You will need to "do this right", especially if you've obtained any assets (including retirement accounts) over the last 17 years.
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The above is said without seeing your case file and without my understanding the entirety of the facts of your case. Depending on those facts, the above information be may incomplete or may be completely inaccurate. The above is intended as general information only based on what you described and not as legal advice. I advise you to consult with counsel who may be able to provide better information commensurate with a better understanding of your situation.