We see people letting off steam all the time through social media platforms like Facebook, twitter and Instagram. Email and text messages too are an easy way to vent our feelings. In a matter of seconds, your comments may also be shared on Facebook; your tweets re-tweeted or your emails or texts received and forwarded. Beware that using social media, email or text to vent during a family law matter is definitely a perilous thing to do.
The guiding principle is fairly simple. You should not use social media, email or any form of messaging to discuss or comment upon your family law matter or anything or anyone involved in your family law matter. You should especially avoid comments relating to your former partner’s behaviour or requirements concerning your family law matter; your children in relation to your separation; anything or anyone related to a family law action or comments on any other subject relating to negotiations or agreements to be entered into with your former partner.
If you do this, you risk prejudicing or at least complicating your own case. Even where you are not in Court, these entries, emails or texts may prejudice any claims that you are making for property settlement or damage your claim for arrangements that you seek for your children by revealing information that may undermine your case. Those entries may also lead your former partner or his or her solicitors to make enquiry about matters that would not otherwise have come to their attention but for the communications that you may have made.
If you are in Court, you may well find that your social media entries or emails or texts are reproduced in your former partner’s affidavits to your detriment.
You may also be committing an indictable offence under section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth).
Prejudice to your case/Live Examples
Imagine for example that you are claiming that you are available to care for your children and are therefore seeking that they spend time with you for five nights every fortnight. An entry that you made on facebook some time previous however refers to your plans to work interstate on a fly in fly out basis. It may be that those plans have been aborted or it may be that your fly in fly out arrangements do not interfere with the care arrangements that you are seeking for your children. Either way, production of that facebook entry by your former partner or his or her lawyers may well complicate your claim.
Another example would be facebook posts or tweets that refer to your recent overseas travel at a time when you are claiming spousal maintenance from your former partner. You are entitled to enjoy a holiday. It may even be that the particular holiday was done on a close budget. However, whilst you must disclose details of your financial circumstances, facebook entries of this kind in the hands of your former partner or his or her solicitors may again complicate your claim, possibly raising the spectre that you may not have the required financial need for spousal maintenance or causing your former partner or his or her solicitors to make enquiry requiring further disclosure of any other funds that may be available to you.
Risk of breach of Family Law Act and possible prejudice to claims you are making
Comments that you may make through social media, email or messaging, for example, sharing a post on facebook or instagram or tweeting, may involve a breach of section 121 of the Family Law Act punishable on conviction by imprisonment for a period of up to one year. There may be a breach of that section where those comments identify any parties; related persons (such as children; an Independent Children’s Lawyer of Family Report Writers) or witnesses to proceedings before the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. You should be aware that your former partner and his or her lawyers may be looking at your facebook entries. This will be a risk even where you have strong privacy settings or you have set up restricted groups to share information.
The safest policy
…is to avoid using social media during your family law matter and not to make any comment about it; your former partner or any other person connected to your family law matter in any emails or messages that you may send.
If you need advice or want to learn more, contact us today and receive a free 15 minute consultation.