Social media has become a valuable tool for families going through the process of separation or divorce as it allows for easy and instant communication. Whether it’s organising parental arrangements between separating parties, or allowing parents and kids to stay connected, social media is undoubtedly a more efficient way of connecting than ever before. However, it is important to remember that social media must be used responsibly, particularly when parties are involved in family law proceedings, as social media posts may end up being used in evidence to the detriment of the author. In this blog, we will review the current position on social media, how it may be applied as evidence in family law, and the repercussions that may flow from negative or derogatory posts.
What Does The Law Say?
The Family Law Act states that it is a punishable offence to publish or broadcast any account of family law proceedings which identifies any parties, children or witnesses involved in the proceedings. This is an important provision as it aims to protect the privacy of families going through the often stressful process of family law proceedings. This extends to all forms of publishing, including posting on social media or the internet generally. The court also has the power to order you to refrain from posting or force you to remove existing posts.
Moreover, challenges on a party’s credibility are fairly common in family law cases. For example in a case determining which parent should have primary custody of a child, if one party has posted photographs or comments on social media that may indicate they are not a suitable guardian, the court may take this into account. One judge described the usage of social media for the purpose of damaging another party’s case as “an unfortunate and increasing feature of modern litigation”.
What Material Can Be Used?
Photos from Facebook or Instagram posts and profiles, private messages or pictures can be used as evidence and are gradually being relied upon in family law proceedings. Some examples of different forms of social media include:
- Text messages or direct messages on apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, or emails;
- Photographs of parents acting in an unsafe and/or irresponsible manner;
- Facebook, Twitter or Instagram posts relating to the location of a child which was not agreed upon by the parties;
- Derogatory or hurtful social media posts; and
- Social media posts at expensive venues when the party claims to be financially struggling.
A Recent Example
In a recent decision, a father sought a court decision that his child be returned to New Zealand from Australia. The mother objected to the relocation and asserted that the move to Australia had been agreed upon by the parents. The father presented evidence of the mother’s Facebook posts that were contrary to this assertion, as well as comments which showed the Australian travel was purported as a ‘holiday’. In this case, the Court ultimately ordered that the child should be returned to New Zealand.
Get Legal Advice
Our experienced family law team at Etheringtons Solicitors are ready and willing to assist you with your matter and take the stress out of the divorce or other family law process. If you need any assistance please don’t hesitate to get in contact with one of our lawyers via email at [email protected] or call us on 02 9963 9800 for a no-obligation discussion.