Service through Facebook: The Future of Family Law?

According to this week’s edition of Law Times, Justice Cheryl Robertson of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice granted an Order allowing an Applicant to effect service through Facebook earlier this month. She also presented a paper to the Kingston and 1000 Islands Legal Conference urging lawyers “to be creative with electronic methods of service.” Justice Robertson argues that as the Justice System is increasingly becoming “out of reach for many” due to costs, using different types of e-service, such as through Facebook or e-mail, would be both time and cost-efficient.

When an Application is brought before the Court, the Applicant first must serve the opposing party through what is known as “special service.” The Family Law Rules outline that the person being served must be handed a copy of the document in person or, if they are represented, the document may be handed to their lawyer of record. In the alternative, the party can apply to the Court for permission to serve the other party through another means when the situation requires it as long as the individual can also show that they have made attempts at serving the opposing party through traditional means.

In the case in which Justice Robertson granted service through Facebook, the Applicant mother was unable to locate the Respondent father in order to serve him with the Application. She was, however, able to find his profile on Facebook. As Justice Robertson has noted, some parties to family law proceedings work hard to not be found, but are unlikely to separate themselves from either their computer or cell phone. Therefore, if the person is able to be found and served over Facebook or through e-mail, then these methods of substituted service should be seriously considered over other means traditionally used. The Applicant mother ultimately served the Respondent father through a message with attachments over Facebook.

Other members of the legal profession have also weighed in and the consensus appears to be that the idea of service through Facebook or other electronic mediums would be more effective than using, for example, a legal notice placed in a newspaper, as Applicants are able to tell whether an opposing party has received the documents or not.

It has also been argued that the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Family Law Rules need to be relaxed so as to allow these types of methods of service without having to spend the client’s money to prepare a motion to obtain leave from the Court to use a substituted method of service. If the objective is to make the Justice System more accessible to the public, then it only seems logical that steps be taken toward e-service becoming a means by which service can regularly be effected.

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