JEOPARDY ANSWER: “Facebook.”
JEOPARDY QUESTION: “How do you track down a husband or a wife who does not want to be served with divorce papers when you have no other traditional recourse?”
Who would have guessed that Facebook would lend itself to 21st century due process under the law?
But, in a landmark ruling by Justice Matthew Cooper of the Manhattan Supreme Court, a new law was indeed made recently when Judge Cooper allowed a wife to “serve the defendant with the divorce summons using a private message through Facebook. The transmittal shall be repeated by plaintiff’s attorney to the defendant once a week for three consecutive weeks or until acknowledged” by the husband.
By way of a little legal background, the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution each contain a Due Process Clause. Since due process deals with the administration of justice, the Due Process Clause acts as a safeguard from the arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the government outside the sanction of law (this would certainly include divorce proceedings). An essential element of American jurisprudence in connection with due process includes adequate notice to a defendant and the right to be heard. So important is the notion of due process in our law that proof of attempts to notify your ex if you are the “moving party” in a divorce must be demonstrated to the court.
How to Serve an Unwilling Spouse in a Divorce Case
The problem of how to serve an unwilling spouse in a divorce case has long been a nightmare for domestic relations lawyers because a spouse cannot meet the threshold evidentiary standard of service of the divorce summons in accordance with due process of the law.
The process of divorce is hard enough. When you add to the mix the anguish of a spouse not being able to even serve her husband/his wife with divorce papers in the first place, then the divorce process seems all the more tormenting and agonizing – not to mention unnecessarily expensive and time-consuming.
In the case before Judge Cooper, back in 2009, shortly after the parties’ marriage, the relationship between the spouses began to disintegrate – apparently in no small part due to the husband’s reneging on his promise to have a traditional Ghanaian wedding (after the couple’s civil ceremony) so that their family and friends back home could witness the new union. According to the wife’s lawyer, the marriage was never consummated, the parties had not lived together and the husband vacated his last known address in 2011 and left no forwarding contact information.
Moreover, since the runaway husband had no place of employment, no billing address tied to his prepaid phone, and no record of his whereabouts through the Department of Motor Vehicles or any other governmental agencies, the wife was at her wit’s end. Handcuffed to the marriage, out of her desperation, she even devoted funds to hire a private detective – all to no avail.
Serving Divorce Papers on Facebook
The one thing the wife had going for her was that the husband occasionally had kept in touch with her by (prepaid) phone or Facebook. Thus, the wife’s counsel and the Court fashioned a most creative and modern option in pronouncing and recognizing that, in this case, the only viable option remaining to the wife was publication via Facebook in order to fulfill the threshold requirement of due process.
Serving your spouse with divorce papers on Facebook certainly gives new meaning to changing your relationship status! And, we are left to wonder whether this unusual ruling may be the wave of the future in divorce courts across the nation.
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