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I want to divorce my violent husband after being estranged for decades

My husband has been missing for 24 years and has a violent past. I want a divorce before I die.

I was married for the second time after years of being alone back in 1995. While helping my new husband whom I had dated for several years I found a love letter from a woman stating she was pregnant.

To me, I was married under false pretences and wanted the marriage ended but being a woman and the wife was told I had to wait at least a year.

Missing spouse: I want to divorce my violent husband after being estranged for decades (Stock image)

Due to my wanting to end the relationship with him in the first week of marriage after finding out he had a pregnant girlfriend, this led to serious physical abuse.

I was able to obtain an injunction and an order to remove him from the property. I still have this old order.

I cannot find an address for him at all but I know the county he is in. The police told me he was still causing women problems and best to avoid him.

What happens if I get divorced? I am on a state pension, £309 paid fortnightly, and a monthly NHS pension of £123. I started the NHS one after he was removed from the property and I had found a job there.

I am in poor health and very concerned that my money will drop substantially if I pursue a divorce. This man has several children none of which are with me.

I have not lived with this person for almost 25 years and even moved home and changed my name. Please can you advise me. 

Tanya Jefferies, of This is Money, replies: I am very sorry to hear about your situation.

We asked a lawyer to explain how you can get divorced while taking every possible step to protect yourself against further violence - or even any direct contact - from your husband.

Some divorce lawyers have specialist experience in cases involving domestic violence, and details of how to find them are below.

It sounds like you have made some progress in finding out where your husband lives now, but not his exact location.

Vanessa Friend: 'You could instruct a solicitor to correspond with your spouse on your behalf'

We recently asked the head of a trade body for private investigators how they might go about tracking down a missing person - albeit in different circumstances from this - and you might find his explanation helpful. 

It includes information on the methods a professional will use to trace someone, and what it is likely to cost.

Vanessa Friend, partner at London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, replies: The court will expect you to make reasonable attempts to locate your spouse before issuing the divorce petition, because it needs to be served on him.

Ultimately, if you are not able to find your spouse you can apply to court to proceed without your spouse's contact details. This is called an application to dispense with service.

A lawyer could assist in tracking down your husband by:

- Writing to his friends and family, including his children;

- Writing to his last employer, trade union or professional body;

- Placing an advert in a local newspaper;

- Instructing a private investigator to look for him, although this is a step which few people take due to the cost;

- Applying to court for permission to search relevant government data bases.

If you have your spouse's email address, you could apply to court to serve the petition by email or another form of social media. 

Can you get divorced without contacting your husband?

You are eligible to apply for a divorce based on five years' separation without the need for your husband's consent.

The only way your husband can resist this petition is to demonstrate that you have not been separated for five years immediately prior to the petition, or that the divorce would cause him grave financial hardship.

If your husband allows the divorce to proceed, you do not necessarily need to contact him as the court will correspond with him directly.

However, you also need to deal with the financial claims that each party has on divorce, which will involve at least indirect contact. 

What is involved in getting a financial settlement?

You can either try to negotiate a financial settlement with your spouse via solicitors' correspondence or a form of alternative dispute resolution such as mediation.

If you cannot reach a negotiated agreement you may need to issue a court application.

Whichever process you choose, it will need to involve the exchange of financial disclosure.

You will each have to give details of your financial assets, including savings, property and your pension.

It will not be possible to do this without contacting your spouse. 

However, you could instruct a solicitor to correspond with your spouse on your behalf.

You should aim to finalise a financial settlement, which will need to be approved by the court, before you complete your divorce. This is because divorce affects some of your financial claims as husband and wife.

Given the length of your separation your spouse is unlikely to be able to assert a claim on your pensions. 

Any claim will be limited to the pension funds built up during the course of your marriage.

In deciding the division of the marital assets the court will look at all the circumstances of the case including the length of the marriage and separation, each party's financial resources and current financial needs. 

Can you get divorced without revealing your new name and address?

As you are nervous about contacting your spouse, you could instruct a lawyer to represent you, as described above. 

The lawyer will correspond with your spouse and the court and can keep your location confidential.

You can keep your contact details confidential by filing a Form C8 with your divorce petition. This means the court will not disclose your details to your spouse.

It is not possible for you to keep your current name a secret as it will need to be included on the divorce petition and the final document in the divorce, which is called the decree absolute.

However, if you have not formally changed your name (for example by using a change of name deed), you may be able to file your divorce under your married name. You should seek legal advice from a solicitor on this point. 

What else can a lawyer do to protect you?

You say that you previously obtained an injunction against your spouse and an order removing him from the family home. These orders are likely to have expired.

If you are instructing a lawyer you can ask for all of the correspondence to be sent through your lawyer.

If your spouse starts to contact you directly and act in a threatening, abusive or violent manner, or incites someone else to act in this way towards you, you can ask your lawyer to apply for a protective order to stop the behaviour.

This called a Non-Molestation Order.

Will your husband inherit your estate if you die without a will?

Under the intestacy rules your spouse would inherit a portion of your estate if you died without a will, depending on the size of your estate.

Who inherits when someone dies without a will? 

A lawyer explains the intestacy rules and the order of who inherits here.

If you have a will, or intend to make one, you can leave your estate to whomever you wish and include a Letter of Wishes explaining why you are disinheriting your husband.

However, your husband may still be able to make a claim against your estate as your spouse. It is therefore important you finalise your divorce and financial settlement as soon as possible.

His children would not have a claim on your estate, because they are not your children or financially dependent on you.  

What should you do now?

You should look for a solicitor who has experience in dealing with divorce and domestic violence and obtaining protective orders.

You can search for a solicitor using the Law Society website or the Resolution website. 

Resolution is a family law organisation for lawyers committed to a non-adversarial approach.

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