The recent news concerning social media is all about the service of a divorce complaint via Facebook. A New York judge recently granted permission to a woman to serve a divorce complaint via her husband’s page on the social media giant. This marks a perhaps first, but not surprising new step in the use of social media. First, the misconception- many people believe that this means that a divorce can be filed via social media. It doesn’t. What it means is that after the divorce complaint has been filed, it can be served online. This method is a natural extension of what is known as substituted service, and in fact may be a more reliable method to getting actual notice to a defendant of an impending divorce.
Once a plaintiff has filed a complaint for divorce, it must be served on the defendant. Typically, this is done by a process server or Sheriff’s officer. Sometimes, the defendant or the defendants attorney will accept service voluntarily. But when the defendant cannot be located, the court can grant permission for something known as ” substituted service.” This typically means publishing a notice in the legal notices section of a newspaper in the geographical area of which the defendant is presumed to be. The likelihood of an absent defendant actually reading the legal notices section of the newspaper can be slim to none.
In the New York matter, the plaintiff wife had no idea where her estranged husband was residing and all efforts to locate him had failed. He did however have a Facebook page and communicated on it regularly. The plaintiff wife successfully argued to the judge that the most likely way to provide notice to her husband of the divorce was to post onto his Facebook wall a notice that the matter was pending. The judge agreed.
Whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay. In this case, it was effectively used to overcome the procedural roadblock which could have prevented or at a minimum delayed a plaintiff’s right to the dissolution of her marriage. One might expect, however, that people dodging service may start paying more attention to privacy settings.