Background

Think twice before using social media during a family dispute

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Would you want a Judge to see your posts?

It is forecast that, by the end of this year, 90 per cent of the UK adult population will use a social media account at least once a month. This is a remarkable statistic, but perhaps even more remarkable is that the average user is estimated to spend more than two hours per day on social media. There is no doubt that we are putting more of our lives online than ever before. We are more comfortable with posting about our family celebrations, our personal dilemmas and our relationship status.

Unfortunately, social media can bring its own set of problems when it comes to a family breakdown. Once you may have told only your closest friends about your relationship problems, but grievances are now being shared on social media. This has resulted in an increase in social media posts being used as evidence in the family courts, where one hot-headed tweet can have significant ramifications.

Using social media while annoyed

It is not uncommon for tempers to run high at some point during a family breakdown. Feelings are raw and stress inevitably contributes to people, on occasion, acting in a manner they would not normally condone. This all too often manifests itself in people taking to social media to vent about their problems. Often these posts are made in the heat of the moment, typically following receipt of a solicitor’s letter, a recent court appearance, not getting to see your children, or learning of your former partner’s new relationship. Even if the post is later deleted, it could already have been saved by your former partner or one of their friends.

Using social media while you are upset is never a good idea, it could never be truer than while you are involved in a family dispute. Postings will inevitably be read by your former partner and could worsen an already difficult separation.

Social media posts as evidence

With the introduction of the no-fault divorce this type of evidence may be of little use in a divorce, but it can still be relevant when it comes to arrangements for the children or family finances. For example, if your social media posts aim to create a negative impression of your former partner then you may be accused of influencing your children in relation to their relationship with him or her. Perhaps your former partner is refusing to let you see your children, but venting your frustration on social media could backfire if your posts are misinterpreted as being aggressive or threatening.

In relation to negotiating matrimonial finances, social media can also be troublesome. For example, if you are a business owner it is likely that you will want to promote your business as being successful to the public. For marketing purposes business owners may therefore decide to post on social media alluding to how well their business is doing, or highlighting a new contract they have won. While this highlights positive news for the business, it could lead to questions or mistrust if it is at odds with representations made to the court about the business’s financial viability. Understandably, any financial difficulties your business could be facing are unlikely to be shared on social media.

If you have a disagreement over spousal maintenance, social media posts showing a luxury lifestyle could be used by your former partner to imply that you have significant surplus monies, and that there should be a levelling by way of increased spousal maintenance payments to them.

Reposting quotes

It is common on social media accounts for reposting of quotes or stories to occur. This can also cause difficulties in a family breakdown. For example, you may be on a support group and see a post you can identify with your own family circumstances, such as a father that is being prevented from seeing his children. While this will not directly name your former partner, reposting it could still be damaging to you in court. This is because a court could interpret that it would be understood by people reading it on your social media account as relating to the behaviour of your former partner.

Things to consider before posting

It is advisable to limit any use of social media while going through a family breakdown and to avoid any posts that directly reference the breakdown or a former partner. Ask yourself before you post ‘Do I want a judge to read this?’, or ‘Would I be embarrassed if this was read out in court?’ If you are at all hesitant then do not post.

It is important to be aware that even if your social media account is private, it is always possible for others to pass on information that you post. Photographs taken of private messages and snap chats have also been used as evidence in court.

Finally, remember that most proceedings relating to a family breakdown are confidential. It is therefore particularly important that the identity of any children involved in these types of proceedings are not made public via social media or otherwise. Clearly a child has a right to privacy both now and into the future.

Outside of the family law arena, there are also risks associated with negative social media posts about someone. If the post is defamatory then you could face a separate law suit for damages which could be very costly financially.

For further information, please contact Hannah Byatt in the family law team on 01480 702207 or email [email protected].


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