Pause before you Post – How social media can impact your Fam­i­ly Law matter

Irre­spec­tive of your feel­ings about social media – it is here to stay. In today’s social media world it seems that there is so lit­tle that we tru­ly keep pri­vate. We’ve nev­er been more con­nect­ed or had a wider plat­form to share each of our inti­mate thoughts how­ev­er, whilst some of this social media post­ing seems rel­a­tive­ly harmless…a pho­to of your break­fast smooth­ie, the sun­set out­side your window…some social media post­ing can have seri­ous impli­ca­tions for your Fam­i­ly Law matter. 

Before you hit post’ you must pause to consider:

  1. Can my post be used against me as evi­dence in fam­i­ly law proceedings?
  2. Is my post in breach of Section 121(1) of the Fam­i­ly Law Act 1975 which pro­hibits pub­lish­ing details of fam­i­ly law proceedings?

We are increas­ing­ly see­ing par­ties rely on screen­shots of their ex’s social media pro­files (Face­book, Insta­gram, LinkedIn, Dat­ing Pro­files etc.) as evi­dence in their Fam­i­ly Law pro­ceed­ings. Evi­dence from social media can be rel­e­vant to a wide range of fam­i­ly law mat­ters includ­ing those relat­ing to par­ent­ing dis­putes, finan­cial dis­putes, spousal main­te­nance and child sup­port. Some exam­ples of the posts that can be used against you include:

Par­ent­ing Cases

  • posts that den­i­grate or crit­i­cise or the oth­er parent 
  • posts that con­tain threats of vio­lence towards the chil­dren, the oth­er par­ent, or their family
  • posts about illic­it drug use, exces­sive alco­hol con­sump­tion or partying
  • posts about crim­i­nal activ­i­ty or associates
  • posts about dan­ger­ous, risky or anti-social behaviour
  • posts about men­tal health issues
  • posts with sex­u­alised or sug­ges­tive material 
  • posts that share con­fi­den­tial infor­ma­tion about your chil­dren or the oth­er parent

Finan­cial Cases

  • posts about sig­nif­i­cant expen­di­ture by a par­ty such as expen­sive hol­i­days or lux­u­ry purchases
  • posts on LinkedIn that show a par­ty’s qual­i­fi­ca­tions, employ­ment his­to­ry or oth­er busi­ness activities
  • posts about assets or per­son­al effects being sold by a party
  • posts about a par­ty’s rela­tion­ship status
  • posts about char­i­ta­ble dona­tions made by a party
  • posts about the death of close fam­i­ly mem­bers, which may give rise to an inheritance.

In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing your for­mer spouse with evi­dence that can be relied upon in Court against you, is impor­tant to be aware that some of your social media vent­ing” may also result in you com­mit­ting an offence that is pun­ish­able by imprisonment. 

Pro­hi­bi­tion on Publication

In Aus­tralia it is an indictable offence under Section 121(1) of the Fam­i­ly Law Act 1975 for a per­son to:-

  • pub­lish in a news­pa­per or peri­od­i­cal publication;
  • by radio broad­cast or tele­vi­sion or oth­er elec­tron­ic means (which includes mobile phone text, inter­net, Face­book, Twit­ter and oth­er social net­work­ing sites);
  • or oth­er­wise dis­sem­i­nate to the pub­lic or to a sec­tion of the public

Any account of any pro­ceed­ings or any part of any pro­ceed­ings under the Fam­i­ly Law Act 1975 that iden­ti­fies a par­ty to the pro­ceed­ings, a per­son who is or alleged to be relat­ed to or asso­ci­at­ed with a par­ty to the pro­ceed­ings or a wit­ness in the pro­ceed­ings. Any per­son found to have con­tra­vened sec­tion 121 may be pros­e­cut­ed and face fines of up to $2,000 or even imprisonment. 

Whilst his­tor­i­cal­ly it was jour­nal­ists that need­ed to be wary of the restric­tions on pub­lish­ing infor­ma­tion relat­ing to Fam­i­ly Law pro­ceed­ings, the rise and acces­si­bil­i­ty of social media has cre­at­ed more oppor­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to share infor­ma­tion online. It is impor­tant to be aware that pub­lish­ing infor­ma­tion about your fam­i­ly law mat­ter online, includ­ing on your​“pri­vate” social media account, may be a breach of sec­tion 121 of the Fam­i­ly Law Act and can car­ry seri­ous consequences.

Social Media Tips 

  • Don’t use social media to vent” or blow off steam” – phone a friend instead.
  • Do not post any details in rela­tion to your Fam­i­ly law pro­ceed­ings online
  • Make sure you adjust your pri­va­cy set­tings but bear in mind – just because some­one is your friend” does not make them your friend. Your pri­vate social media posts can still be screen­shot­ted and sent around.
  • Social media is a pub­lic plat­form and once some­thing is uploaded, it is vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble to remove all trace of it.
  • Pause before post­ing and ask your­self, how would I feel if my child saw this?
  • Also ask, if this was shown to the Court as evi­dence, what would it sug­gest? How would I feel?