A Supreme Court Judge in New York City, Justice Matthew Cooper has this week ruled that a wife may serve divorce papers on her estranged husband via Facebook. Justice Cooper had found that the wife in the case only had contact with her husband via telephone and Facebook and that the husband had moved from his last known address in 2011. The husband had also claimed to the wife that he had no fixed address and was unemployed. As the husband had refused to make himself available for service, Justice Cooper ruled that the papers could be served via the private message facility on the social networking site. A message with the divorce papers attached would be sent to the husband once a week for a period of three consecutive weeks or until he acknowledged receipt. After the three weeks, service will be deemed to have occurred.

In England and Wales, once a divorce petition has been filed with the Court by the applicant, a copy of the paperwork is then sent to the respondent to the proceedings by post together with an ‘acknowledgement of service’ which is a form which the Respondent is asked to sign to confirm that they have received a copy of the petition. A divorce cannot progress until the respondent has signed and returned the acknowledgement of service or until it is proved that the respondent has in fact received a copy of the petition.

It is quite often the case that the respondent may choose to simply ignore the divorce papers or refuse to sign and return the acknowledgement of service. In these circumstances, it may be necessary to employ a private agent or Court bailiff to personally serve the documents and confirm service to the Court.

But what is the situation where a husband or wife seeking a divorce is no longer aware of the whereabouts of the other party? If service can be proved then the Court will view this as deemed service, but it is extremely rare that a Court will dispense with service altogether.

In England and Wales, service of documents in the Family Court is generally made by first class post, by personal service via an agent or on occasion, a Court may allow service via email. In times of improving technology, social media and world travel, it makes sense that the procedures we use reflect the entirety of the resources at our disposal and the manner in which we routinely seek to communicate to each other.  It is not unusual for one party to be on the other side of the world and in these circumstances; service via email or social media may be preferable.

In addition to New York, other countries such as South Africa and Malaysia have previously allowed service of Court documents via Facebook and even by text message. This recent case in New York City may provide a persuasive argument in future cases in England and Wales where it appears impossible to serve an estranged husband or wife with divorce papers and underlines the need to sometimes think outside the post box.

Lisa Honey is a Trainee Solicitor at Breeze and Wyles Solicitors Ltd and is currently undertaking her third seat in the Family Department. Lisa has gained experience in all  aspects of family law, including divorce, financial settlements and matters relating to children. Lisa has also undertaken seats in Private client and Conveyancing