Viewed one way, social media is a wonderful modern-day tool, capable of bringing people together and making the world seem much smaller than it really is. But on the other hand, social media can be seen as a dangerous trap where you can easily defame others or damage your own reputation with a casual movement of your thumb.
This is particularly the case in family law cases. Lawyers who work in this field increasingly warn of the dangers inherent in sharing material or posting opinions on social media while you are also in the midst of proceedings about such sensitive matters as parenting, financial disputes, spousal maintenance and child support as the result of a relationship breakdown.
What are the dangers?
The rise of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp means these places are the new town square. People share personal information and opinions on the platforms without always realising the implications.
In the context of family law matters, you could be damaging your chances of success in court proceedings because what you post may be used by the other party to effectively portray you in a wholly unflattering light.
This is particularly the case if any of your posts feature you:
- Excessively using alcohol and/or drugs;
- engaging in promiscuous or dangerous behaviour;
- making negative comment about the other parent using derogatory language, or making false accusations about them, or posting content that reflects them in a negative way;
- showing off gifts or expensive new purchases;
- providing information about a new job, what you’re earning, or a lucrative new source of income.
Above are just some of the pitfalls of posting on social media. Some – such as excessive partying or making negative remarks about your ex – provide ammunition to an opposing lawyer to draw inferences about your character as a parent and/or provider. Others, such as posts which might give the wrong impression about your financial situation, may diminish your case if your proceedings against an ex-partner involve determinations about financial matters.
It’s important to remember that ‘tagging’ and the sharing of content by third parties can implicate you as well, such as putting you inside a nightclub on a Wednesday night when you’ve said you were at home with the kids (for example).
It’s breaking the law
Not only are social media posts about your family law issues unwise, but they’re also likely illegal. Section 121 of the Family Law Act prohibits the electronic dissemination of information about family law court matters:
“…[Section 121] restricts the publication of any accounts of any proceedings or parts of any proceedings or lists of proceedings (subject to permissible exceptions) under the Act that identify the parties or others involved in the case. The restriction applies to a publication, or other dissemination, to the public or a section of the public, and can apply to disclosures online as well as through the media.”
How should you approach social media?
Apart from just taking more caution and perhaps employing the old ‘count to 10’ method before deciding to post something if you’re in the midst of a family law matter, it might be useful to have a short checklist of questions to answer yourself.
- Is the information I’m about to post derogatory and negative towards myself or my ex-partner/co-parent?
- What would an objective third party – such as a judge – think if they were to view this picture or read this post?
- Does this post put me in a bad light as a parent?
- Does this post suggest I have a lot more money than I actually have?
- Is the information in this post inconsistent with information I’ve already provided and attested to as the truth?
What if the shoe is on the other foot?
Perhaps you’re the one with the self-control when it comes to social media and your ex-partner is the one with the busy thumbs.
The most important advice here is not to react and retaliate with posts of your own. Screen capture any posts by your ex-partner that you object to and forward them to your legal representative. Your lawyer might utilise the posts in evidence or contact the opposing lawyer to request the post be removed and their client cease from posting any further similar content online.
One of the key attractions of social media is also its key problem – posting is quick and easy. When you consider that you’re creating a record which is very public in nature, it’s worth taking an extremely cautious approach to using social platforms while you’re going through the difficulties of a family law matter.
It is important to seek specific advice regarding your circumstances as this fact sheet provides general information only and does not constitute legal advice.