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Divorce Service by Facebook: Will Massachusetts Courts Begin to Allow it?

Millions of people sign on to Facebook each day to communicate with friends, share personal - albeit, sometimes too personal - information, and get their daily news stories. Facebook and other social media platforms have become so integrated into the lives of individuals everywhere that it comes as no surprise that the law and technology are intersecting in more ways than ever expected.

Courts have long utilized social media to disseminate news and information to the public and attorneys have utilized information posted on sites, such as Facebook, as vital evidence in a range of court cases. Recently, courts have been faced with the question of whether or not people are allowed to serve papers via Facebook message. This issue represents a potential move beyond traditional email as a form of alternative service. And could extend laws of service of progress to a multitude of social media sites as increased forums though which summons can be delivered.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper recently ruled that a woman was allowed to serve her husband divorce papers via private Facebook message. Facebook was utilized an alternative means of service of progress after the court determined the defendant had no known mailing or address of residency, nor an email account. While Justice Cooper acknowledged service by Facebook is "novel and nontraditional," he deemed that this form of service would achieve those goals of service of process that is "actually delivering the summons to him." This case represents the first U.S. case where service by Facebook was the sole method used to serve the defendant; past cases have allowed service by Facebook to be done only on the condition that papers were served via another method as well.

Interestingly enough, while service through social media forums is just gaining traction in courts in the United States, this method of service has been utilized in courts around the world, including Australia, Canada, South Africa, and Ireland since 2008. Ireland has gone so far as to allow service though LinkedIn. And the UK has allowed service via Twitter.
Before US courts permit social media as a primary means of delivering service of process, they must weigh concerns of authenticity and privacy, with the ultimate goal that the service of progress will reach the intended recipient. Because of the ease in which anyone can falsify information online or make a fake Facebook profile, the courts must be able to verify whether the Facebook page in fact belongs to the defendant being served.

This lies in the plaintiff's ability to provide substantial evidence as to the legitimacy of account holder's identity. Additionally, the court must consider how far the legitimacy of service of process by social media can extend. Must the means of service be on a private message? If displayed as a "status," could the recipient's privacy rights be violated?

One thing is for certain, in this digital age, paper methods are no longer an effective means of communicating with a large portion of the population. Despite the challenges of incorporating social media trends into court policy, utilizing social media forums for service of process would be extremely beneficial to help the court achieve its goal of reaching the desired recipients.

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