This morning, I appeared on Fox29 in Philadelphia where I discussed and commented on a recent case out of Brooklyn, New York. In this matter, a divorcing party was granted permission to serve initial process by way of Facebook. In New York, like many jurisdictions, an initial divorce summons or divorce complaint must be served by personal service, and if the other party cannot be found after diligent search, a court may allow alternate means of service such as publishing notice in a local newspaper. The rules governing service of initial process are very specific and usually very limited, until now, that is.
In the Brooklyn case, the wife demonstrated to the Judge that she spent significant time, with no success, searching for her estranged husband in order to serve him with the divorce. The only way she knew how to communicate with her husband was via her Facebook account. Thus, the Judge granted her permission to serve divorce papers through social media.
This case is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First, courts are usually slow to embrace technology. For example, in many jurisdictions pleadings in divorce litigation, such as complaints, motions, etc. cannot even be filed with the court electronically. And service of these documents on the other party cannot even be accomplished by facsimile or emails. Thus, allowing a party to serve a complaint by Facebook is a huge leap in terms of efficient use of technology.
Second, divorce and family law attorneys usually advise clients to be circumspect in their use of social media. After all, it is no secret that communications on social media sometimes cause marital rifts in the first place which may eventually lead to divorce. Additionally, we have all heard horror stories of people posting inappropriate comments and pictures on social media, some of which end up as evidence in divorce and/or custody trials. So, using social media to assist in the process of moving a divorce forward in a more positive manner is a refreshing concept.
Will service of complaints by social media become the norm in divorce cases? I think not. However, this case will serve as a landmark in giving people a viable alternative to present to the court in those unusual situations where the other party cannot be located by any other means. Eventually, the courts will catch up to current technology, and a case such as this is a step in the right direction.