Service by Facebook of a father’s petition to terminate child support was directed by Richmond County Family Court Support Magistrate Gregory L. Gliedman in a September 12, 2014 decision in Matter of Noel B. v. Maria A. (NYLJ link).
The father filed that application to terminate child support based on the alleged emancipation of his son.
The father was unable to effect service of court papers upon the mother by normal means. He submitted an affidavit that the mother was unknown to the current occupant of the the mother’s last known address. The father called and sent text messages to his 22-year old daughter to ask the mother’s location, but that no one answered the call or replied to his texts and voicemail. He also called and sent a text message to his son (the subject child on the instant petition) requesting that information, but again there was no reply of any kind. The father also did a Google search, but was unable to find any location for the mother.
Magistrate Gliedman noted that the Support Collection Unit (“SCU”) to which the father mailed his support checks still had that same last known address on file for the mother, meaning that all correspondence and communication with respect to the funds she was receiving for child support were being sent to that address. The magistrate further noted that the mother provided that same address to the court when she sent an electronic testimony application to the court in March, 2013 in connection with a prior matter between the parties.
The father told the court that the mother maintains an active social media account with Facebook. The mother’s current spouse maintains her own Facebook account, and has posted photos that have been “liked” by the mother as recently as July, 2014.
Magistrate Gliedman described Facebook as a social networking website that allows its users to interact with friends, relatives, acquaintances and individuals with common interests. Due to its online nature, there are no geographic limitations on Facebook — people with whom an individual interacts with on Facebook can be as close as the house next door or as far away as a continent on the other side of the world.
CPLR §308, governing the service of the petition upon the mother, provides that service may be accomplished “in such manner as the court, upon motion without notice, directs, if service is impracticable” by personal delivery, delivery to a person of suitable age and discretion at the residence or place of business of the person to be served, or affixation and mailing to, here, the mother’s home or place of business.
Magistrate Gliedman found that the latter methods of service were impracticable. However, the magistrate recognized that the father did have a means by which he could contact the mother and provide her with notice of the instant proceedings, namely the existence of an active social media account.
While the magistrate was not aware of any published decision where a New York state court authorized service of process by means of social media, other jurisdictions (including a New York Federal court) have allowed such service in connection with other means of service.
Accordingly, pursuant to CPLR §308(5), the court authorized substituted service by the following method:
the Petitioner is to send a digital copy of the summons and petition to the [mother] via the Facebook account, and follow up with a mailing of those same documents to the previously used last known address. . . . The method detailed here by the court provides the best chance of the [mother] getting actual notice of these proceedings.
Comment: Facebook is a method to let the mother, and perhaps the rest of the world know, this family’s business. It was not discussed whether the mother’s Facebook page allowed private messages to be sent. You can only send a private message to a page that has that messages feature turned on. If one doesn’t see Message on the page, it means the page has turned off this feature. If so, the father was left to post the court papers to the mother’s timeline.
Certainly, there are times, such as in domestic violence situations, when a spouse’s address may need to remain secret. However, that circumstance has not been alleged here.
Rather, here, the mother appears to still be receiving support through the Support Collection Unit. That would indicate that the mail is being forwarded. Indeed, it does appear that the court papers should have been sent, in the first instance, by regular and certified mail/return receipt requested to the last known address (the one the SCU was still using). Additionally, the father should have been directed to use the USPS’s Address Service, and he would have been notified of the address to which the mail was being forwarded.
Still further, to the extent that the court did not have authority to direct the SCU to send the papers, the Legislature, once again can create that method. Certainly, the mother should not be allowed to frustrate a child support re-determination while the SCU continues to act on her behalf. On the other hand, the world does not need to know this family’s business.