Like many people, I struggle to remember a time before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pintrest. The usage of social media has become a societal norm, with the ability to instantaneously communicate and publish to the world information and content at will. I even have friends to ‘ring’ me via Facebook Messenger, rather than by my telephone number.
That being said, for all the positives and benefits of using social media, there are some drawbacks that it will definitely pay to be mindful of when going through a separation. The things you post online now could have far-reaching consequences – especially if your matter is before the Courts, and may be used as evidence against you.
Lawyers rely on evidence to support their client’s argument and I have found that social media can be a veritable ‘gold mine’ for obtaining evidence – especially in parenting matters (but also financial disputes) when said evidence can be found when reviewing the social media presence of both clients and opposing parties alike.
Firstly and foremost, Section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) provides that it is an offence to publish or disseminate the identities or information gathered during the course of proceedings. A breach of Section 121 could be a Twitter or Facebook post after a few drinks on a Friday night, bagging out your ex-partner (which may be seen by your ‘friends’ and screenshots taken) or a Facebook post disseminating information which was published in the Family Report or Affidavits filed in the Court.
We know that legal fees are an issue for parties to any legal dispute, but before going off and setting up a GoFundMe page (or similar) you should talk to your lawyer about the options available to you. You cannot publish information that identifies parties to family law cases before the Courts. I have acted in matters where even photographs of the parties and the children were added to the campaign which is not only a breach of GoFundMe’s terms and conditions but also would likely be considered a particularly egregious breach of Section 121 by the Courts.
Social media issues aren’t just limited to bagging out your ex-partner or breaching Section 121 of the Act. Those awesome Instagram photos of your overseas holiday? That’s evidence of your financial means and could be used against you in property/spousal maintenance/child support proceedings. That picture your friend tagged you in, talking about your new car/boat/jet ski? Same thing. Photos that your friends posted (featuring you) on a boozy night out? You can almost guarantee that (if seen) your ex will use your social media posts against you in Court. Your family or friend’s Facebook post giving your ex-partner a spray and your cheeky little comments or laughing emojis you think no one will see? Guess again. A YouTube blog venting about how biased your Judge is and how the system is rigged? Your ex’s lawyer will be your biggest fan!
In summary, you should be very conscious about the things you put on social media and always bear in mind that your intended audience may not be all who and reading or monitoring the same. Just because your own privacy settings are set to a particular standard doesn’t mean that your friends or family’s activity won’t be seen by others. By all means, post those photographs of the family trip to the beach on Instagram or Facebook, and share your thoughts about the latest craze on Twitter – but think very carefully about what you put on social media before doing so, both before and after separation, and especially whilst you are under the microscope of the Court.