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Social media giant Facebook is used by more than a billion people worldwide (1.35 billion to be more accurate), so it will come as no surprise that Facebook has been involved in many family law cases in recent years. Whether it is evidence of infidelity, excessive spending, or to expose the other parties lies, Facebook posts and photos are routinely offered as evidence in Family Courts.
However, in a first for Facebook, a New York judge allowed a woman to serve her divorce papers via Facebook as an attachment. Apparently, the woman's husband had no physical address and was refusing to accept service of the divorce papers. After the Judge confirmed that the Husband's Facebook account was legitimate and belonged to him, the Judge entered an order allowing her attorney to serve the divorce paperwork via Facebook. The documents had to be attached to a private message. The message had to be sent once a week for 3 consecutive weeks. At the end of the three weeks, the service was deemed accomplished and the case could proceed in the normal course. Whether a California court will allow a party to serve a divorce petition via Facebook is unknown, but that is only because no one has asked a court to allow them to do so. I think under the same circumstances, a California Court would, at the very least, give the idea of service via Facebook due consideration.
In California, and most states, service of process is all about making sure the other side has notice to the other party. This ensures the other party to the case has an opportunity to have their day in court and tell their side of the story. It is all about fairness. In California, a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage must be served personally on the other party. Pursuant California Code of Civil Procedure § 414.10, service "may be made by any person not a party to the proceeding who is at least 18 years of age." What that means is you cannot be the person to perform the service. Most people ask a friend or family member to serve the papers. You can also hire a process server, but that means you have to pay them; usually around $100. In most cases, the other party knows the divorce has been started and is expecting to be served. Even when it is a surprise to the other party, most people do not actively evade service, especially when the service is performed at their home or job.
In some cases, you may not know where the other person lives, or as in the Facebook case, they have no address and you do not know how to locate them. In California, you can ask the Court's permission to serve the papers by publication or posting. Service by publication is used when you do not know where the other party lives, but you believe they live in a general area. When you serve via publication, you publish the Summons in a newspaper of general circulation in the area where the other party is likely to be. You will have to pay the newspaper a fee to publish the papers, and it will have to be published for 4 weeks in a row, at least once a week. In San Diego, you do not have to publish the papers in the Union Tribune, which could be very expensive. You can use smaller publications that are dedicated to this type of work and can publish a Summons for around $80 for all four weeks.
Another option is service by posting. This is an option only if you cannot afford to serve via publication. You will have to prove to the court that you cannot afford the publication costs. In this case the Summons is posted in a designated courthouse at a designated place by the court clerk. At the end of being posted for 28 days, the service is deemed complete.
In order to be allowed to use service by publication or service by posting, you will have to obtain the court's approval first. In order to be granted approval, you will have to show you have exhausted all other options to locate and serve the other party. As I said before, the reason the court requires personal service is to ensure notice and fairness. So make sure you keep a record of everything you did to locate and serve the other party before you ask for an alternative means of service.
Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding service of process in California. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.