It’s never been easier to stay connected to family, friends and strangers. Social media gives us the opportunity to share our thoughts, feelings and habits with others, and most of us enjoy getting a little bit of attention by posting a photo or message without suffering any serious consequence. However, when going through separation, divorce and / or a custody application, it is important to understand and realize the impact that social media can have on a family law case.
Not too long ago, I was involved in a case where a couple had separated and was sharing custody of the children. The mother claimed that she was unable to work, and this put tremendous financial strain on the father to support his ex while simultaneously trying to build a life with someone new. A search through Facebook revealed that the mother had created a small business selling and reselling goods through the platform’s marketplace. The mother had never claimed or disclosed this income. Further research revealed that she had created a LinkedIn account where she reported being involved in a number of businesses. This led to an investigation, which proved she had not been honest in her disclosures. The finding ultimately impacted the final judgement.
In another case, a father was seeking sole custody of the children. Upon a review of his social media accounts, it was found that he frequently engaged in lewd conduct and associated with friends that were promoting drug use and in some cases, inferring that they were involved with illegal activities. While these connections thought that they were “cool” and / or in their right to express themselves, the father’s application was easily dismissed based on the questionable environment that the children might enter.
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In yet another case, following a break up, one of the parties began to slander the other on social media and even made a few comments which could be interpreted as threats. The party making the posts felt that they were within their right, and that while their comments could be seen by numerous people, they believed that where they were sharing this posts was ultimately private because they didn’t think that the party they were talking about knew about it. However, once in court, when the opposing side presented a binder of printed comments, threats and slander, the reality of just how badly the other party had damaged their own credibility and case became apparent.
Online bullying is not just a situation that affects school-age children. Often the day to day “venting” by adults on social media can constitute bullying, harassment, threats, hate crimes, etc., and many people don’t realize it because they don’t understand the consequences of sharing those comments in a public space. Aside from being liable for your comments and actions online, your should consider by how that information you share may be perceived, reacted to, and used against you later in a court of law.
So what can you do to avoid building a case for the other side?
- Avoid commenting on or about your ex, their new love interest(s), job, family, friends, etc. online. While you should try to avoid this anywhere, you really need to be careful of it online because despite what you may think, a very large number of people can and will see your comments, and any of them may choose to provide that information to your ex or your ex’s team.
- Do not engage your ex in any negative or emotional social media conversations. Often we feel like we need to respond, or to tell our side of the story. But this is incorrect. The final decision from a judge is a far more effective reflection of your side of the story than your online comments will ever be.
- Be honest in your disclosure. If you work, say so. If you are trying to gain an income but haven’t got it figured out yet, report that. Regardless of what your reason for failing to advise of the discrepancy is, trying to regain lost credibility is much harder to do then you may think.
- Always remember that what you post, even for a second, can live forever. As such, it can always come back to haunt you later.
- If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. This is possibly the most important thing to remember in every interaction of any kind.
Contrary to popular belief, there are consequences for your actions and behaviour on social media. It’s easy to lose credibility for sharing poorly worded or emotionally based comments, but the good news is that a lack of those comments can earn you respect and strengthen your reputation.