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Using Facebook to serve notice of divorce in Massachusetts

For people in Massachusetts who have exhausted other, more traditional channels of contacting spouses in a contentious divorce, serving documents via Facebook may be the last recourse. New case law emerging out of New York and other states sets a precedent for this kind of service, but for a court to view such service favorably, there must be exceptional circumstances prohibiting location or service of the spouse.

Generally, courts do not accept legal communications via social media as valid means of service. In cases where a spouse has gone off the grid and cannot be traced through identification, vehicle or voter registration or other official means, or where other circumstances demonstrate that normal service is impossible, the court may permit service of divorce documents through social media. However, the circumstances of such approval typically are required to meet a rigorous series of tests concerning the inability of the sending spouse to trace the whereabouts of the intended recipient effectively.

For service through Facebook to be considered, the sending party must be able to demonstrate to the court's satisfaction that all other possible avenues of service have proven fruitless. These include but are not limited to attempted service through process servers or law enforcement, engaging a private investigator and other means of establishing contact before social media such as Facebook will be considered.

A case involving sensitive divorce issues such as inability to serve required documents on the spouse presents special challenges for an attorney and client. The attorney may begin by attempting service through ordinary channels. If these prove ineffectual, the attorney might petition the court to consider service through Facebook or other social media as a last resort to achieve service. The court has final say in whether such service is considered valid.

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