Social Media. Some of us love it, some of us hate it, some of us use it and some of us abuse it!
With Facebook alone having approximately 2.5 billion users as of late 2019, it’s no surprise that people are using its content and content from other social platforms as evidence in Court – particularly in family law matters.
If you’re thinking about separating or are currently going through a separation, it’s important to be aware that what you post, comment, blog, text or email could be used as evidence later down the track.
In this post, we aim to provide you with some insight into how social media and other communications could be used in family law proceedings. It also provides some key tips on how to avoid ending up in a sticky situation.
What platforms can evidence be taken from?
The common platforms where evidence (i.e. screenshots, printouts and downloads) is often taken from include:
– Social media including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Linkedin
– Dating apps (yes, we’re serious!) such as Tinder and Bumble
– Text messages
– Websites including comments and forums
Do people really say things online that is used against them later?
Yes they sure do! Social media platforms make it all too easy for people to make damaging and misleading comments in the heat of the moment. It’s important to remember that your comments can be permanent and may have serious ramifications in relation to your separation.
Examples of possible scenarios include:
– A person’s employment history taken from LinkedIn could be used to support evidence regarding their employment history and earning capacity. This could be relevant to property settlement and/or spousal maintenance proceedings
– A negative post on Facebook badmouthing the other parent could be relied upon in parenting proceedings
– A picture posted on Instagram of a new car that hasn’t been disclosed could be used as evidence in a property settlement proceeding and be seen as a mark against that person’s credibility
– A bio on a dating app that speaks about drinking, taking drugs and partying could be used to support evidence regarding parental capacity
These are just a couple of examples of how using social media carelessly can come back to bite you in the future!
What can you do to avoid a situation like this?
Before emailing, sharing, posting or commenting online, you should consider asking yourself the following:
– Am I currently in a clear headspace or am I angry and therefore easily triggered?
– Will I regret these actions later?
– If my children/family/friends or a Judge sees this, will I feel embarrassed?
– What can I do instead to relieve this feeling?
Also consider speaking with a trusted friend or specialist, or get advice from an experienced family lawyer to provide you with more clarity around your specific situation. Dealing with the situation in the right way could save you a lot of financial and emotional cost.
The 24-hour rule
We always recommend that our clients use the 24-hour rule. We can’t claim this idea as our own, but it’s a good one! The rule is simple – you write down a draft of what you want to say (or post). You then sit on it for at least 24 hours. In that time, you also consult with others (especially your family lawyer) for their input. If after 24 hours, it still makes sense, then send or post it. If it doesn’t (which is often the case) then DO NOT send or post it.
Once our clients use the 24-hour rule, the usual outcome is that a more considered version will be sent or posted. Things like this can prevent your matter from blowing out of proportion and can reduce significant emotional and legal costs for everyone involved.
We live in a digital world and sharing your life, interests and opinions on social media has become the norm. The things we choose to post online can now become accessible to millions of people instantaneously.
When going through a separation (and in life generally), being aware of your situation, taking extra caution and using the 24 hour rule when posting online, will significantly help you in the long run.
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By Julia West, Associate Family Lawyer
The information contained on this site is for general guidance only. No person should act or refrain from acting on the basis of such information. Appropriate professional advice should be sought based on your particular circumstances.