Should You Be Able To Serve Divorce Papers Through Facebook?

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If you so choose, you can use the internet to avoid virtually all person-to-person contact; sign contracts electronically, transfer funds from account to account, transact business, order dinner and a movie, but can you use Facebook to sidestep the awkward — and sometimes difficult — process of serving divorce papers on your estranged spouse? Not always, says one judge.

The case before the Brooklyn judge wasn’t just about a wife who thought she could use Facebook to serve the summons on her husband. The wife argued that she used Facebook because she had few other options.

According to the judge’s ruling, the couple were married in June 2011, but the husband left the home only three months later. She believes he’s since been deported and is likely living in Saudi Arabia.

The wife told the court she has “made every effort to locate” her estranged husband, including contacting his family members and friends, and searching public records. New York state suspended his driver’s license in 2012, but the wife’s lawyer said that this seems to be the last piece of information linking the husband to the U.S.

The wife acknowledged to the court that she could publish the divorce summons in a local newspaper but that she “barely makes enough money to feed [her] family” and could not afford the approximately $3,000 she claims it would cost to run the notice in a Riyadh newspaper.

Her attorney argued that sending the summons to the husband on Facebook is more practical than the allowed “nail and mail” method of notification. Under New York state law, this last-resort option allows for a summons to be affixed to the “door of either the actual place of business, dwelling place or usual place of abode within the state of the person to be served” along with mailing the notice to that same person at their last known address.

New York courts had previously allowed that a legal document could be served by email, but only in cases where the two parties had been actively using email to communicate at the time the document is served.

The judge in this case noted that the last update to the husband’s Facebook page was in 2014, meaning there is no certainty that he’s using the social media site or that he’ll ever see the summons.

While the wife told the court that she has communicated with her estranged spouse via Facebook more recently than 2014, the judge noted that she didn’t provide copies of these exchanges to back up her claim.

“As such, plaintiff has not demonstrated that… service by Facebook is reasonably calculated to apprise defendant of the matrimonial action,” concluded the judge. “Before the Court could consider allowing service by Facebook pursuant to [New York law] the record must contain evidence that the Facebook profile was one that defendant actually uses for receipt of messages.”

In short, explained the judge, “Granting this application for service by Facebook under the facts presented by plaintiff would be akin to the Court permitting service by nail and mail to a building that no longer exists.”

[h/t NY Post]