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Serving Divorce Papers Via Facebook?

One Court in New York recently allowed serving divorce papers to your spouse through Facebook. It’s a huge leap forward in the arena of using social media in divorce cases, but it is a leap that, as the Court takes great pains to point out, is simply a logical extension of our ever growing connectedness through social media. You can read a rather large excerpt of the Court’s ruling here.

Serving Divorce Papers

Most people know that for a legal case to be started, the defendant has to be “served”. This is a constitutional requirement that exists to ensure that the person being sued (or divorced) is actually aware that they are being called before the Court. In most cases, initial service in a case requires that the person being served to be handed the paperwork outlining the case. There are some other ways to accomplish “personal service” such as leaving the papers with a family member at the person’s residence or leaving them with a secretary or receptionist at their place of business.

Alternative Methods

If personal service is not possible, many state’s rules allow for a defendant to be served by alternative means, such as by certified mail. The entire purpose of the rules surrounding service is to ensure that the person served is actually aware of the case in which legal judgment may be rendered against them. Which is (as the Court in New York points out) why it is so odd that we allow, in cases where the plaintiff can show that they can’t find the defendant, what is called service by publication or service by consolidated notice. In these methods of service, notice of the action is published in a newspaper or a bulletin posted at the courthouse. To be honest, this is a pretty anachronistic practice. The odds of someone reading the legal postings in a paper, or venturing by the courthouse to read the notices seem pretty slim.

Using Social Media

Compared to those methods allowing service via private message on Facebook seems much more likely to result in the defendant actually being made aware of the action. And that is precisely what the Court in New York decided. Given the purpose of alternative means of service, namely ensuring that people actually know what’s going on, service via Facebook, when steps are taken to ensure that the person to be served actually uses that platform, appears to be a much more efficient and useful way of accomplishing service than publication or consolidated notice. This may be even truer given that Facebook messages allow the sender to see if the recipient has actually read a sent message.

I’m not certain that service via Facebook will ever become routine, but many Shaves has already embraced electronic service for all but the initial pleadings in divorce cases. Using alternative electronic means of service, rather than archaic methods that don’t actually achieve the purpose of service or process just makes sense.

Posted April 13, 2015
by: MFL Team

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