Can I Use Social Media to Serve My Spouse with Legal Papers?

Writing "social media has thrown a wrench in the works of legal disputes" would be an understatement. From texts used as evidence in the courtroom to disputes over what behavior over social media constitutes "adultery," there's no shortage of ways for individuals to utilize social media during legal disputes in the modern era.

But, can you use a social media platform such as Facebook Messenger to serve your spouse with news of the divorce? That's the question we're here to answer.

To schedule a consultation with our team for your divorce, contact us online or via phone at (310) 455-8364.

So... Can I Use Social Media to Serve My Spouse Divorce Papers?

Long story short, no. At least, not anymore.

A few years back, a family law judge in New York did rule that individuals could serve spouses with serving pleadings via Facebook Messenger. The judge reasoned that, since the recipient of the message would make it as "seen" after opening to it, the server would know whether they received it and, as such, could proceed with the legal dispute.

However, California courts currently disagree with that assessment. The current law in California does not account for serving individuals with pleadings via social media platforms like Messenger, and doing so won't qualify as officially serving the respondent in a legal case.

Could the Laws in CA Change to Allow for Serving People Over Social Media?

It's possible. Maybe even likely. In a recent discussion on the topic, the California Court of Appeals said that concerning whether serving another party over social media should be possible,

"our answer to the first of those questions would be a qualified yes. As Justice Cooper wrote in Baidoo, "[A] concept should not be rejected simply because it is novel or nontraditional. This is especially so where technology and the law intersect. In this age of technological enlightenment, what is for the moment unorthodox and unusual stands a good chance of sooner or later being accepted and standard, or even outdated and passé."

Currently, California law requires that respondents are personally served with petitions in civil harassment, notice of hearing, and temporary restraining order disputes. The server can be a third party, such as a sheriff or a professional process server, but the pleading must still be delivered by an individual to the respondent.

However, in the coming years, it's entirely possible - and maybe even probable - that we could see that change. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced courts across the country to adapt their technology to be more user-friendly for courtgoers. Electronic hearings were a new development many courts adopted this year, allowing individuals to attend dispute hearings via video-conferencing apps such as Microsoft Teams.

Allowing service to happen via social media platforms would be an obvious next step in the continuing technological evolution of courts across the country. Doing so would have several benefits:

  • Service would be easier. Sending a message over a social media platform is (in most cases) far simpler than having an individual attempt to locate and serve a respondent, so social media-enabled servings could be simpler to carry out;
  • Service would be cheaper. In many cases, petitioners hire professional process servers to serve respondents. Social media servings could make it easier for petitioners to serve respondents without spending excess money doing so, and process servers may be able to reduce service fees.
  • Service would be faster. Since most social media platforms have a definitive way of detecting whether an individual has opened a message, serving via social media would be faster than traditional service in most cases.

Of course, there are still plenty of kinks to iron out. For example, petitioners must typically enlist a third party to serve respondents with legal pleadings. How would that requirement interact with social media? Would it be waived, or would process servers and sheriffs need to have a way to submit legal proceedings via social media?

There's also the issue of privacy. How would courts handle serving individuals who have turned off "seen" notifications on social media platforms? Would they need to be served in a traditional manner, or would courts have a message to detect whether users have read a court-related message despite their privacy settings?

It will be interesting to see how courts navigate these issues as technology continues to develop.

At TRABOLSI | LEVY | GABBARD, our team is here to help you deal with your legal dispute. To schedule a consultation with our team, contact us online or via phone at (310) 455-8364.

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