New York Court Rules Wife May Serve Husband with Divorce Summons Via Facebook, Offers Interesting Commentary on Intersection of Law and Technology

smart-phone-icon-1377498-mA spouse who seeks to initiate a divorce proceeding must properly serve the other party with notice in accordance with local state law. It is important to understand the methods of service that are deemed acceptable in your jurisdiction. Otherwise, you may not be entitled to the relief sought. Most states have a system of courts, each with the authority to hear and decide certain types of disputes. In Maryland, it is the circuit court that handles family law cases, such as divorce and child custody and support matters. Keep in mind that the rules for service of process vary depending on whether you are filing a case in a circuit court versus a district court (which handles other kinds of matters). If you are considering filing for divorce in Maryland, it is important that you contact an experienced family law attorney as early in the proceedings as possible.

Service of process has been defined as the way a defendant receives court papers and notice about a court case. There are a few legally acceptable and effective ways to serve one’s spouse with divorce papers. These methods include:   1) by certified mail, restricted delivery (requiring the defendant to sign for the papers), 2) through the use of a sheriff or constable (for a fee), and 3) by private process (which may be a family member, friend, or a private process server). In many states, including Maryland, if a party has difficulty locating the person to be served, he or she may file a motion with the court asking for permission to find another acceptable way to serve the documents.

In Baidoo v. Blood-Dzraku, a recent case that has garnered nationwide attention, a New York court concluded that the wife may use a social media site to serve her husband with a summons for divorce. According to a news article, the wife had been trying to divorce her husband for a number of years, to no avail. Court papers indicate that he had no fixed address and no place of employment. Once the wife (through her attorney) had exhausted the traditional methods of service, she petitioned the court to allow her to effectuate service via “alternate means.”

The wife sought to serve her husband with notice via a Facebook message. The main question in this case was whether service in this manner would satisfy notions of due process by being “reasonably calculated” to provide the husband with notice of the divorce proceedings. The court ultimately concluded that service via Facebook is “reasonably calculated” to give effective notice, pointing out that the alternatives were impractical. The ruling was not without its restrictions. The wife had to submit an affidavit verifying that the Facebook account belonged to her husband, and that he regularly logged on to his account.

According to another article, there seems to be a split among courts as to the suitability of social media for service of process. But of those jurisdictions that have permitted it, they often require service via Facebook to be one of the methods of service, and not the only one undertaken. In this New York case, the court pointed out that that wife had no other way to locate the husband, and it would have been costly and futile to attempt service by publication, described by one author as a “statutorily authorized non-service.”

This is a controversial topic, one that is sure to come up again in jurisdictions throughout the country. It will be interesting to see how Maryland courts treat this issue should a party seek to serve a spouse with divorce papers via social media. Anthony A. Fatemi is an experienced Maryland family law attorney who keeps abreast of legal developments affecting parties seeking a divorce.  For representation and legal guidance, you can contact Mr. Fatemi at (888) 519-2801 or (301) 519-2801.

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