Once a divorce Petitioner files all of the documents and pleadings required to initiate a divorce case in the court system, the next thing that must happen is that the Respondent (the Petitioner’s spouse) must be personally served with these documents. Personal service means that a sheriff, marshal, certified process server, or other person appointed by the court must personally deliver these documents directly to the Respondent. O.C.G.A. § 9-11-4. The purpose of the strict rules governing service of process is to ensure that the Respondent receives proper notice of the proceedings so that he/she has sufficient opportunity to respond and defend him/herself. In some divorce cases, the Respondent will agree to sign an Acknowledgment of Service, which is a document signed under oath attesting that he/she did, in fact, receive all of the required divorce documents. In other cases, however, the Respondent makes service of process as difficult as possible on the Petitioner, causing the Petitioner to look to other avenues to perfect service.
A recent example of this can be found in a divorce case out of New York, where a court recently found that Facebook is an acceptable way for a wife to serve her husband with the divorce papers. Divorce By Facebook: New York woman can file online, by Stephanie Gallman, cnn.com, April 6, 2015. In that case, the wife had been attempting to serve her husband for years, but she and her attorney haven’t been able to physically find him. She did speak to him by phone and was told, “he has no fixed address and no place of employment,” and further refused to cooperate with service. The wife’s attorney filed a motion for “service by alternate means,” asking for the ability to serve the husband via Facebook. After the wife sufficiently proved that the account belonged to her husband and that he consistently logged on to the account such that he would see the summons, the Judge granted the motion and allowed service by Facebook.
While this appears to start a slippery slope of alternate means of service, it is important to note a few facts in this case that likely had an impact on the Judge’s decision. First, the parties separated shortly after they were married and never lived together. Second, the parties had no children together. Third, the wife was not asking for any money or property from the husband – all she wanted was a divorce. The fact that there were not real issues over which to argue (i.e. child custody, child support, alimony, property division) may have made the Judge be a little more lenient that he otherwise would have been.
However, the Judge did say “the advent and ascendency of social media” make sites like Facebook the “next frontier” as “forums through which a summons can be delivered.” Those are pretty strong words and it will be interesting to see how this could trickle down to other courts in New York and around the country.