Asked and Answered . . .

Nazli Sater on divorce via social media

On March 27, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper gave a New York City woman permission to file for divorce from her hard-to-find husband via Facebook. The New York Daily News says Victor Sena Blood-Dzraku will be served with the divorce summons via a private Facebook message that will be repeated once a week for three consecutive weeks. Nazli Sater is a family law and divorce attorney who practices in the Southfield office of Warner Norcross & Judd LLP. She represents clients in cases involving large estates and has extensive experience handling complex asset division.

Thorpe: Unable to resist the pun. I'll ask, do you "like" this development?

Sater: I'm really excited by this change, which reflects the dramatic evolution of communication. Our laws were created to reflect accepted social practices. The decision to allow a plaintiff to serve the divorce action via Facebook is an example of the legal system keeping up with technology and current methods of communication.

Thorpe: Justice Cooper called social media platforms the "next frontier" for delivering summonses. How has the process evolved over the years?

Sater: Traditionally, service of process has been accomplished by hand delivery or mail. Under certain conditions, Courts have allowed substituted service by posting or publication. With the natural progression of reliance on technology, change is inevitable as Facebook has become a widely used form of communication. Service by Facebook is really a natural evolution of the use and reliance on technology.

Thorpe: Are legislatures keeping up with these developments in terms of updating laws?

Sater: Yes, but not fast enough. The legislature has made some changes that make it easier to communicate quickly in a tech-enabled world - allowing electronic signatures as an accepted method of business is one example of this. Despite some strides, technology is still outpacing necessary public policy adjustments. One area where things seem especially behind is email. Technically speaking, if you're filing a motion in the court, email still isn't considered a proper way to deliver a motion. That notwithstanding, attorneys heavily use email today in their day to day communications and transmittal of documents.

Thorpe: Justice Cooper also said in his order, "In the final analysis, constitutional principles, not the lack of judicial precedent or the novelty of Facebook service, will be ultimately determinative here." Do you agree?

Sater: Yes. We're a nation of laws and preserving the constitution is paramount. While change is necessary, great care must be taken to ensure fundamental rights are not compromised by technology. Evolution in communication must be balanced with fundamental rights such as privacy, due process and other important constitutional principles.

Thorpe: If Mr. Blood-Dzraku doesn't respond to the Facebook approach, what will happen next?

Sater: Now that one court has ruled Facebook is an alternative method of service, failure to respond would be no different than hand or mail delivery. If the defendant fails to respond, the court can enter a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor. In the case against Mr. Blood-Dzraku, if he fails to respond to the summons delivered via Facebook, his wife could ask the court to enter a judgment of divorce in her favor and with the terms she requests.

Thorpe: Well, we've covered one end of the arc. Do you foresee anyone getting married on Facebook?

Sater: In a fast-paced, ever-changing world with new technologies, the one thing that's certain is change. People are meeting and forming relationships on the Internet - via social media. They are communicating via Skype, text messaging, email, twitter and Facebook. We now even have tele-medicine. The concept of getting married on Facebook may seem far-fetched, but may not be a totally outlandish concept in years to come.

Published: Mon, Apr 20, 2015

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