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Family & Relationship Law 22 May 2017

Family & Relationship Law in the Social Media Age

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat – social media accounts are so popular these days. It seems like almost everyone has at least one.

Social media can be a great tool to allow people to remain connected. You can instantly share photos, thoughts, events and daily life with friends and family. But an unexpected consequence is that social media is now frequently used in litigation including family law, particularly in parenting disputes.

Countless times we have seen a disgruntled parent airing their “dirty laundry” or venting about their ex partner on social media. What the public do not see is that the social media post may be used against that person in their family law matter.  It is now unfortunately all too common for an Affidavit in a family law matter to have social media posts annexed to it as evidence of a party’s behaviour.

Social media posts can, amongst other things, demonstrate to the Court that a parent is not able to facilitate a meaningful relationship between their children and an ex-partner, or that they are not concerned with what is in the children’s best interests. Social media posts can evidence breaches of Court Orders or cast doubt on a party’s credibility.

Once something is posted on social media, the owner of the post loses control of that information.  It could easily be saved, or copied, and some posts are even publically viewable and searchable. A derogatory post can end up being read not only by friends and family but by an ex-partner, lawyers, Judges, Magistrates and expert witnesses.

Very strict rules apply about publishing information about family law proceedings (on social media or otherwise) and the disclosure of personal or identifying information about parties to family law matters. Section 121 of the Family & Relationship Law Act 1975 makes it an offence to electronically publish or disseminate information identifying either parties to proceedings or witnesses. Penalties including fines or imprisonment can apply to breaches of this provision of the Family & Relationship Law Act.

A party to a family law dispute needs to be careful about what they post on social media relating to their children, ex- partner, or family law matter to ensure they do not provide the other party with material to use against them, or alternatively find themselves in breach of the law.

We recommend that you check the privacy settings on your social media account. You should refrain from posting at all while your family law matter is before the Court and consider deactivating your social media altogether during that period.  At the very least, you should think very carefully before you post!

If you require advice or further information in relation to any of the matters discussed in this article, please contact our Family & Relationship Law team on 03 5273 5273.

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