For family lawyers, social media comes in to play on an almost daily basis.
We live in an age where only a minority of people do not have access to or use social media, with more and more people posting details of their lives on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites. Misuse of these sites can lead to significant and detrimental effects for a client’s case whether this is divorce / separation, child matters etc, as the increased use of screenshots of postings are used as evidence in Court. The judge can form a view on the posts and make decisions which could have significant consequences, for example a child being ordered to live with the other parent.
Whilst you may think that you would never fall into the trap of airing your dirty laundry in public, emotions inevitably run high during divorce proceedings and matters concerning children. It is now all too easy for those involved to vent their frustrations for all to see. Examples include excessive criticisms of the other parent, saving images of the other parent or spouse on nights out or with an alleged new partner, and even accessing questionable or illegal activities. It often doesn’t take long for a post you thought was private to find its way back to one of the parties involved, with the risk of it then ending up before a judge as evidence against you.
The impact of social media has recently been in the spotlight because of its effect on criminal proceedings and the right to a fair trial. Extra reporting restrictions are being considered after recommendations by the senior appeal court judge, Sir Brian Leveson, following legal challenges over what could be published about the trial of two schoolgirls who were eventually convicted of murdering Angela Wrightsonin Hartlepool in 2014. The consequential “trial by social media” threatened the defendants’ right to a fair trial.
Whilst this recent review on social media focuses its attention on its effect on strict contempt laws, social media is inevitably impacting upon the courts and legal system generally. In private family proceedings, it is therefore more important than ever to understand the impact of misusing social media and the consequences that could follow.
Here are some tips you may want to consider when using social media during family law proceedings: –
Check your privacy settings. You can limit access to your posts and pictures to friends only, but remember that it only takes one friend of a friend to find a way onto your account. You may want to consider reviewing your friends list altogether.
Do not enter into arguments over social media or send abusive or threatening comments. This extends to text messages and emails too. Evidence of the same may lead to injunctive proceedings being made.
Refrain from posting statuses or pictures of a new relationship. This may antagonise the situation.
Do not boast or post inappropriate messages regarding drink or drugs, as this can lead to potential drug and/or alcohol testing being pursued and jeopardises contact with your children.
Monitor your children. Your children could find their way onto your accounts and be upset by seeing emotionally charged comments or posts, or pictures that you did not intend for them to see.
Taking a temporary hiatus from social media may be too much for some people, but the important message is that if you do use social media during family proceedings, then do so appropriately.
Written by: Lucy Chandler
Based in Cardiff Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice is Wales’ largest specialist Family Law firms.
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