Court uses Facebook to serve paternity test order
KIM ARLINGTON COURTS June 04, 2010
In a case which highlights the difficulties of keeping a low profile when you have a Facebook account, a court has ordered that the social networking site be used to serve legal documents on an elusive father in a child support dispute.
The federal magistrate who made the order, Stewart Brown, said the Adelaide case was unusual but ''demonstrative of social movements and the currency of the times''.
The man, known as Mr Howard, had a brief relationship with a woman who later gave birth. No father was named on the birth certificate, and when the mother sought an assessment of child support her application was rejected for lack of legal proof of paternity.
The mother's solicitor repeatedly wrote to Mr Howard asking him to undergo a paternity test, but he moved regularly and there was no reply. Letters sent care of his parents and current girlfriend elicited no reply, and a process server had no success delivering the documents.
But Mr Howard was a regular Facebook user. When Mr Brown was told a private message could be left for Mr Howard on Facebook, he ordered that the documents be served electronically.
In a recently published judgment, delivered in Adelaide, the Federal Magistrate who made the order, Stewart Brown, inferred Mr Howard wanted no involvement.
Mr Howard closed his Facebook profile and MySpace website after the documents were served. But Mr Brown found the mother was entitled to an assessment of child support, payable by Mr Howard.
Federal magistrate Stewart Brown saidI am satisfied Mr Howard had been properly served with the documents and the parentage test can have only one outcome because he is [the child's] father
It is believed to be only the second time in Australia that legal documents have been served via Facebook; a Canberra law firm used it in 2008 to serve notice of a judgment on two borrowers who defaulted on a loan.
Tim Butcher, a senior lecturer at RMIT saidThis was an example of creativity in the legal system.
People are finding new ways to use social media every day.
It's only natural that courts, businesses, government agencies will use these tools to track us down. You have the world at your fingertips - but the flip side is that people can find us as well.
Secretary of the SPCA saidIt was only a matter of time before one of the newer IT Savy Judicial Officers got on to the fact that social media sites are where people hang out. No different from being at the local pub for some. This is an innovative and marked change away from traditional and conventional rules and the adoption of new methods to serve documents where parties are proving less than receptive.
I think we will see more of this type of approach including possible use of email and wave type social media platforms to make service of documents common place in the future.