New York Woman Allowed to Serve Divorce Papers Via Facebook

PHOTO: Facebook is displayed on a laptop screen in this March 25, 2009 file photo in London. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Facebook is displayed on a laptop screen in this March 25, 2009 file photo in London.

At least one Facebook user won't be "liking" an action from his ex-wife and her attorney today. A judge in New York has permitted a woman to serve divorce papers through Facebook in what the attorney says is a first for the state.

Ellanora Baidoo of Brooklyn wants a divorce from a man she married in a New York civil ceremony in 2009. Her attorney Andrew Spinnell said the husband, for unknown reasons, had reneged on his promise to follow that with a traditional Ghanaian wedding ceremony. So Baidoo wants a divorce, but she and her attorney have been unable to locate him for the past several months, save for his Facebook page and a phone number.

Baidoo never lived with Victor Sena Blood-Dzraku and the last address she has for him is an apartment that he vacated in 2011, according to a written decision by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper on March 27. Spinnell said he and his client still do not know where her husband is living.

"[Baidoo] has spoken with [her ex] by telephone on occasion and he has told her that he has no fixed address and no place of employment. He has also refused to make himself available to be served with divorce papers," Cooper wrote.

She and her attorney even hired private investigators to find him, including investigating a "false alarm" that he worked in New Jersey, to no avail, Baidoo’s attorney said.

Cooper wrote that "the post office has no forwarding address for him, there is no billing address linked to his pre-paid cellphone, and the Department of Motor Vehicles has no record of him. Inasmuch as plaintiff is unable to find defendant, personal delivery of the summons to him is an impossibility."

Cooper, after first asking her to prove that the Facebook account was her husband's through their correspondence, directed Baidoo and her attorney to serve the divorce papers for three consecutive weeks. After that time, the judge will permit Baidoo to file for default judgment for her divorce.

"She’s not looking for any money. I don’t think there is any marital property. This is a case where a woman wants to move on with her life and marry someone else potentially," Spinnell said.

"Under the circumstance presented here, service by Facebook, albeit novel and non-traditional, is the form of service that most comports with the constitutional standards of due process," Cooper wrote. "Not only is it reasonably calculated to provide defendant with notice that he is being sued for divorce, but every indication is that it will achieve what should be the goal of every method of service: actually delivering the summons to him."

Spinnell said they served Blood-Dzraku for the first time last week via his Facebook email address and an attachment, as first reported by New York Daily News. And he was served for the second time today, though there still has not been a response.

"She wants to move on with her life and this will allow her to be able to do so," Spinnell said of his client.

Spinnell said there are federal commercial cases that have allowed service by Facebook, but he did not know whether other states allow it. In September, a judge in New York's Richmond County Family Court on Staten Island allowed a woman to be served via Facebook to modify an existing child-support order, according a New York lawyer who’s familiar with the state’s matrimonial laws.

Alton Abramowitz, chair of the New York State Bar’s Family Law section who wrote about that decision for the New York Law Journal in October, said, "As the populace becomes more dependent on electronic communication, the need for personal service -- in which someone is physically served -- becomes less and less important, especially as people are live transiently.

"Often we live in a world where people can disappear but manage to surface on the Internet so, basically, the Internet is the best place to communicate," said Abramowitz, partner with Mayerson Abramowitz & Kahn in New York and past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

Blood-Dzraku declined to comment. It is unclear whether he has an attorney, Spinnell said.