Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Social media tips for separating parents

The widespread use of social media has presented new opportunities and challenges for people experiencing family separation and/or parenting disputes, and can frequently change the nature of evidence in the family courts. Family Law Accredited Specialist Simone Green shares some of the positives and negatives of social media in Family Law cases.

Beneficial use of social media in Family Law

One of the benefits of the widespread use of social media is that the courts can serve documents via Facebook or similar social media accounts in circumstances where the other party cannot be located through any other means.

In the case of Macguire & Klein [2016] FamCA 874 (5 October 2016), the father made an application for sole parental responsibility for his eight-year-old daughter after he discovered the mother had left the child with her grandparents and essentially disappeared. Despite extensive efforts by the father to locate the mother and serve her with court documents, he was unsuccessful. The father did manage to contact the mother through her Facebook Messenger app and received a reply. His solicitor then forwarded a cover letter notifying her of the date of the hearing, together with the Court documents, via her Facebook account. 
The mother did not attend Court but as the Court was satisfied that she knew of the Application because the message had been marked as ‘seen’, the father was granted sole parental responsibility for the child by way of an undefended hearing.

Ugly side of using social media in Family Law

The darker side of social media presents itself when people vent their anger, frustration or hate for their former partner on social media pages, post hateful memes or photos, or even post photos which contradict statements otherwise made in evidence. For example, one party may be tagged in photos by others in situations they have otherwise denied in statements to the court; for example drinking alcohol while caring for children, or bragging about new possessions in circumstances where they deny having means to pay spousal maintenance and child support.

To avoid the social media traps that can come back to haunt you during separation, 
Streeterlaw advises you do the following:

  1. Delete all your social media accounts during the separation process
  2. If not possible or not willing to delete social media accounts, then do not post content.
  3. If you must post content, ensure that you do not say or infer anything that you would not say, write or show to your grandmother. Do not say anything negative about your ex-partner, his/her friends, family or children, or (and yes, it has happened) the judge.
  4. Assume that anything you post will appear in your ex-partner’s affidavit, be read in court and make great cross-examination material for your ex-partner’s bulldog barrister. The same goes for text messages and emails.
  5. Encourage your friends and family not to post negative material about your former spouse online.

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