The holidays are over, and the new year brings resolutions, fresh starts, and crowded gyms. In the family law world, the new year also brings an increase in divorce filings.
Once a new divorce case is formally filed, the first thing to happen is that you must give notice to the other party. Traditionally, serving divorce papers involved the physical delivery of the documents to notify the other party about the impending divorce proceedings--think Olivia Wilde being served with custody documents while on stage at CinemaCon or the dramatic “you’ve been served” as seen in movies. The physical service approach has long been a point of contention, especially when one party is not cooperative. Moreover, in cases where parties reside in different states, the issue of service has historically provided more opportunities for fighting.
With the prevalence of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and X (formerly known as Twitter), states are increasingly turning to these digital avenues for service. Therefore, the traditional and sometimes dramatic methods of service may become a thing of the past.
In recognition of society’s increased use of electronic methods to communicate, Illinois has recently joined several states in allowing service via electronic means. In 2023, Illinois amended its rule on formal service to allow service by social media, email, or text message. For example, the amended rule allows service to be sent via direct message on a social media platform if the other party has an active account.
Please know, however, that this novel approach to service is not as simple as sending a friend request. Before it allows this service method, the filing party must first obtain a court order permitting a party to use this method since the Illinois rule requires the court to be satisfied that the party receiving the notice has the necessary technology to receive and read the electronic service. Once the court approves the electronic service, a party can serve via the approved method such as social media, email, or text message.
What should you be aware of with the new method of service? If your spouse lives in a different state, their opportunities to evade service and avoid participating in an Illinois divorce drastically decrease since service via electronic means makes it difficult for a spouse to avoid being served. Moreover, be vigilant on your social media. Make sure you are actively checking your messages, especially since you now know you could be served via electronic means. Finally, consider putting read receipts on your social media accounts such as Instagram, which has read receipts when you open a message. This can let the other party see whether you have (or have not) received their message.
The evolution of electronic communications and service via electronic means is emblematic of changing times. The dramatic days of “you’ve been served” may start to become a thing of the past. Now, you can just slide into your spouse’s DMs.