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:
- Can my post be used against me as evidence in family law proceedings?
- 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:
- 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
- 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?
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.