In most legal proceedings the person initiating the lawsuit (the “plaintiff”) has the burden of giving the person being sued (the “defendant”) notice that he or she is being sued.
Courts, especially in divorce cases, are so deeply concerned that the defendant has had all opportunity to find out about the lawsuit, that it typically requires that notice of the lawsuit be handed directly to the defendant. This is called personal service.
If your spouse is still living with you, it would be easy for you to arrange personal service of the summons and notice on your spouse.
But, if you are no longer living with your spouse, the process may become very difficult. If you are unable to serve your spouse, you will be forced to go to court and make a motion for the court to allow you to serve him/her by an alternate means.
For many years, these alternate means required that you publish notice of the lawsuit in a newspaper and/or send the notice to a designated address in the mail. With the advent of social media, some courts are now permitting service via social media.
In one recent New Jersey Superior court case, the court allowed service via Facebook. (See K.A. and K.I.A v. J.L., Docket No. C-157-15 (Ch. Div., April 11, 2016). This case is not a divorce case, but the decision of the court to allow service via Facebook in this case may open the door to service via social media in divorce cases here in New Jersey.
In this case, plaintiffs, K.A. and K.I.A. sued the defendant (J.L.) for holding himself out on Facebook as the biological father of their son, Z.A. Z.A. was adopted by the plaintiffs.
J.L. initially contacted the plaintiffs by sending a Facebook request. That request was denied. J.L. then contacted Z.A. through Instagram and told Z.A. that J.L. was Z.A.’s biological father. J.L. then incorporated Z.A.’s image in a photograph and pasted it on his Facebook wall.
The plaintiffs attempted to serve J.L. via mail. Mail service was returned. The plaintiffs then requested that the court allow them to serve J.L. via Facebook and their request was granted. The court found that Facebook was the only method of service available to the plaintiffs and since J.L. was active on Facebook, the court reasoned that would give J.L. proper notice of the lawsuit.
Courts in New York are in disagreement as to whether it is proper to serve via Facebook. Some courts have allowed service via Facebook while others have refused to allow service via Facebook.
Service via social media will likely become more common. If a court finds that a defendant cannot be served by traditional methods, it may allow service by social media if it can be shown that the defendant has an active social media presence, thereby making it reasonable to assume defendant will receive notice of the lawsuit.