New York Supreme Court Judge allows service of divorce papers via Facebook, according to a recent ruling by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper. You can do more than “Friend” and “Defriend” on Facebook. You can now serve divorce papers, too. The March 27 decision states that while in-person service is always the best method, electronic service is OK if there are no other options.
Judge Cooper wrote, “The past decade has also seen the advent and ascendancy of social media, with websites such as Facebook and Twitter occupying a central place in the lives of so many people. Thus, it would appear that the next frontier in the developing law of the service of process over the Internet is the use of social media sites as forums through which a summons can be delivered.”
The end result is what matters, Cooper continued. If in-person service is impossible, as we’ll see in the decision, Facebook service gets the job done. Seymour J. Reisman of Reisman, Peirex, Reisman and Capobinco in Garden City, N.Y. hails the decision as “revolutionary,” going on to say, “Once you stop and think about it, it’s really the right thing.”
The standard rule for service is that if you can’t find the defendant, you are required to leave a notice as his/her last known address or publish it in a newspaper. Neither of the methods guaranteed the defendant would actually have notice of the suit.
The case in question involved Ellanora Baidoo and her soon-to-be-ex-husband Victor Sena Blood-Dzraku. The ruling allowed Baidoo to Blood-Dzraku the divorce summons via a Facebook private message. She may send it once a week for three weeks or until he responds. At the time of the decision, Baidoo and Blood-Dzraku only communicated via Facebook or telephone calls. Service via private investigator was unsuccessful.
The couple was married in a civil ceremony in 2009. However, they both decided to have a traditional Ghanaian ceremony before they consummated the marriage and lived together. They had no face-to-face contact after the civil ceremony and never had the Ghanaian ceremony. In fact, Baidoo doesn’t even know where Blood-Dzraku lives. The ruling states that the “post office has no forwarding address for him, there is no billing address linked to his prepaid cell phone, and the Department of Motor Vehicles has no record of him.”
There is some precedent for this type of service, at least in New York. The family court held that a man could serve his ex-wife a child support-related notice via Facebook.
Honestly, this all makes sense. Everywhere one looks these days, people are glued to cell phones, laptops and tablets. I’m just as guilty, to be fair. The law considers signatures on contracts exchanged in electronic format to be legal; service via electronic means is only logical. Baidoo’s case is, perhaps, an extreme example of not being able to complete in-person service, but a quick glance at the Rules of Civil Procedure will show that alternatives to in-person service are nothing new.
Some have speculated that “read receipts” could be considered formal acknowledgement of service. Why not? They indicate that the recipient has, in fact, received the document. The presumption that will actually read it follows naturally. In any case, service has been completed.
Now that Facebook is a publicly traded company and rumors abound that it will soon be charging businesses that advertise via company Facebook pages, I have to wonder if Mark Zuckerberg and cronies will find a way to monetize service of summons.
A few easy programming tweaks should surely be all that’s needed to provide something snappy (and legally effective) such as:
“Friend” “Defriend” “Divorce (fee applies)”