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Using Facebook and Social Media to Serve Divorce Papers

Posted on November 5, 2019

In our digital age we turn to social media and other digital technologies to solve a wide variety of problems, including serving divorce papers. As far-fetched as that might sound, judges are increasingly giving permission to serve divorce papers via Facebook in cases where one’s spouse is proving difficult to find. Let’s review when serving divorce papers via social media is appropriate.

When can social media be used to serve divorce papers in New York?

There are many circumstances when a judge may permit you to serve your spouse divorce papers via social media. Perhaps you and your spouse separated months, or even years ago; or, maybe they disappeared suddenly without any explanation.

Previously, New York State required divorce papers to be served in person by an adult who is not involved in the case. However, after approval by the court by way of a court order, if your spouse lived in a hard-to-reach location, the state allowed a “substituted service” where divorce papers could be served by someone who lives with them, affixed to the door of their home, or mailed to their last known home or work address. Other than publication, substituted service as defined above was the only other allowable method of service when service could not be made in person.

The problem? Each of these substituted service methods requires you to know the last location of your spouse.

Today, nearly 70% of adults in the United States use Facebook, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center. The ubiquity of social media has created a culture where our Facebook profiles can be considered our “home” on the Internet. As a result, the legal community is coming to view Facebook accounts as analogous to home or work addresses, thus making them acceptable for the service of divorce papers.

In the 2014 case, Noel B. v. Anna Maria, a New York judge ruled that in the absence of a physical address, an active social media account may be used to send digital copies of a court summons and petition.

In a similar 2015 New York case, Baidoo v. Blood-Dzraku, Ellanora Baidoo explained to the New York court system that she was unable to serve papers to her estranged husband because she could not locate his address. With only a cell phone number and Facebook address to locate him, the judge agreed to allow the divorce papers to be served through Facebook, citing the “advent and ascendency of social media” in his ruling.

Can email be used to serve divorce papers, too?

The use of email to serve court documents is less clear than the use of social media. Although some judges in New York may agree to serving divorce papers via email, just as with substituted service or service by Facebook, you would need to get court approval before doing so. However, keep in mind that it may be easier to prove someone is active on his or her social media account than on an old email address, which can be easily discarded.

Are you considering a New York City divorce?

Whether you and your spouse are in a contentious relationship or have reached an amicable decision to end your relationship, it is important to seek legal counsel during your divorce proceedings. At the Law Office of Vivian I. Stark, P.C. Our NYC matrimonial lawyer has more than 30 years of experience providing New York City with legal counsel in the areas of matrimonial and family law. To learn more about our services, call (212) 349-1600 or contact us online today.