Social Media During Family Law Cases: Tips for Clients

Social Media Family Law

What a party in a child support case or any other family dispute posts online could be used as evidence against them. Social media has undoubtedly influenced every aspect of our lives, both professionally and personally. Some studies show that about 65% of adults aged at least 30 who have access to the internet are regular social media users. The number is even higher for adults below 30 (approximately 89%). We always share our images, views, opinions, and other content without considering how it may affect us negatively. Sharing an image or video might seem innocent, especially if it just stays online for 24 hours or less. However, it can have an impact on how a family court case turns out as it can be utilized as evidence. 

Why It’s Important To Avoid Social Media In Family Law Cases

The law applies to the use of social media in family law cases. According to Section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975, it is an offense for a party to post any part of the legal proceedings (text or visuals) on social media.

The law prohibits sharing information that is likely to identify an individual related to the dispute, such as:

  • The name of a party to the proceedings
  • The physical description of a party
  • An individual related to a party
  • Recreational beliefs or interests
  • Property that a party is associated with
  • Residential address of the individual

It is important to avoid social media because it could adversely affect the outcome of the case. Additionally, breaching this section of the family law attracts a penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment.

Examples Of Behavior That Could Negatively Affect A Case 

The following are examples of social media evidence that can be used in family law cases, such as parenting orders and spousal or child maintenance:

  • Posts, tagged posts, or remarks that belittle or mock the ex-partner
  • Posts, images, or videos about any aspect of the legal process, including lawyers and court information
  • Screenshots or pictures of private communications shared via social networking applications such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger
  • Pictures or videos from vacations, pricey restaurants, or buying new possessions
  • Images of a parent doing drugs or binge-drinking
  • Posts proving domestic violence

Application Example

Let’s use the example of a party asking their ex-spouse for child support. The ex-spouse says they aren’t able to make the payments because of financial struggles. If the party alleging financial difficulties has visual proof of an expensive vacation on their social media accounts, the alleging parent may utilize this proof to demonstrate that their ex-spouse is not going through any financial difficulty. 

The Court of Appeals of Ohio’s decision in the case of Dexter v. Dexter serves as a stark illustration of how social media could be used in custody disputes. The court relied heavily on photos she posted on Myspace highlighting the mother’s drinking habits to deny her sole custody.

Social media posts may be used as evidence in family law cases in the following instances:

  • Parental responsibilities: It is possible to demonstrate a parent’s incapacity to care for their child by providing evidence of their violent behavior or illegal drug and alcohol use;
  • Social media may be used as proof to show how long a couple has been together in de facto relationships. Remember, the length of a relationship affects the outcome of a divorce.

Steps To Take To Manage Online Presence

Given the significance of social media use in family dispute cases, it is important to ensure one manages their online presence. The following steps will be helpful:

1. Changing Passwords

Ensuring that the other party does not have access to one’s social media accounts is important. One way to ensure this is by changing passwords on social media accounts, emails, and devices often.

2. Working On Security Settings

Maintaining privacy by making sure one has high security settings is also a great step toward managing their online presence. Carefully choosing who can view and who cannot view one’s social media posts will bar others from using their social media posts as evidence in family dispute cases.

3. Avoiding Displaying Purchases

Financial issues frequently come up in family law cases. An ex-spouse or partner may use any recent purchase to suggest that the other person is lying about their financial situation or is hiding assets.

4. Avoiding The Deletion Of Posts

It should come as no surprise that nothing on the internet can actually be deleted permanently. One should consider the chance that a family member or acquaintance may have already emailed the post to the ex-partner before deleting it. Deletion may be considered “evidence tampering,” which is a serious offense. Even if a party has already posted something that they think the other party may use as evidence, they should not delete it.

5. Taking A Break

A party in a family dispute may consider taking a break from social media activities at least until the case is finalized. This will help avoid making posts due to emotional flare-ups.

Setting Boundaries While Still Expressing Self Online

Family Law

Setting limits online is crucial, regardless of whether one is involved in a family legal matter. Nobody wants to be in a position where the other party will use their online postings against them. Here is how to establish boundaries:

1. Granting Permission To Establish Boundaries

Many people believe that they are under no obligation to set boundaries. They think they should accept everyone who sends a friend request on Facebook or make an extra effort to assist a friend of a colleague with a LinkedIn recommendation. It is important to grant oneself permission to set limits and refuse requests. They should learn how to use the privacy settings on their social media accounts if they don’t want strangers to read their posts or message them.

2. Appreciating That Not Everything Needs To Be Shared

One does not necessarily have to discuss all they go through and do with their followers. They should publish on social media with the knowledge that the court could view it. When talking about setting boundaries online, Abigail Johns, a social media expert, says, “We don’t need to tell the world about everything happening in their lives. You know, I always see them share sensitive information online. It is sad, really sad.” Refraining from sharing posts that overtly advertise their lifestyle or publish any information about their ex-partner is important. Asking friends and family not to include them in social media posts could also be a smart idea.

3. Taking Things Slow

Online relationships develop quickly. And here we mean interactions of all types; not just romantic ones. When using a computer to chat, especially with like-minded individuals, it may seem as though one knows them well. However, getting to know someone’s character takes time—several months. In general, it’s better for all parties to move more slowly and enter into their relationships with care and consideration. It’s crucial to wait until one gets to know the other person before disclosing too much about themselves.

At Pedrick Law Group, we help review a client’s unique facts and circumstances if they have concerns about the impact of their social media or that of their loved one on a prospective case. If you are dealing with a family law case, contact us online or by calling 949-438-3886.

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