What You Post on Social Media CAN Hurt You In a Family Law Case

These days, most teens and adults have at least one social media page, whether it be on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, LinkedIn, or some other platform. Since so many adults have social media accounts, many attorneys have witnessed mistakes that have been made on social media which negatively impacted their family law case. In fact, we have won cases for our clients simply because of what an opposing party, in a moment of anger, posted on their social media.

You may wonder how what you post online can have a negative impact on your divorce or custody case. I’ll give you a few examples, some of which are based off of real cases that our firm has handled in the past:

  • In a spousal maintenance case, a husband claimed to be earning very little income, yet he posted on Match.com that he earned over $150,000 per year. This post was then used against him to show that he made more than he originally said he did.

 

  • In a custody case, a mother who denied doing drugs and partying was posting photos on Instagram in which she was at bars and nightclubs holding bottles of alcohol with others doing drugs in the background. This was then used against her in court when determining parenting time and legal decision making.

 

  • In a divorce case that started off amicably, a husband ranted on Facebook about his soon to be ex-wife after a heated argument. A mutual friend screenshotted the post and sent it to the wife, who became enraged and decided she no longer wanted to be amicable. This led to a litigation that went on for years and cost a great deal of money for both parties.

 

  • A mother posted photographs on Instagram of herself and her young daughter with Mother’s new boyfriend. An investigation turned up that the man had a long criminal record, including convictions for domestic violence and child abuse. Needless to say, the mother lost custody of that child.

 

  • In a high-conflict custody matter, an angry father made threats against the mother on his Facebook page, which resulted in the Court awarding mother sole custody with only limited supervised visitation for Father.

 

If you are active on social media, it’s important to learn the best practices while going through a family law case. Here are some important tips:

  1. Be careful who you add and accept on social media. We all want to have lots of friends and followers on social media, but some of these “friends” can hurt you. That follow-request that you accepted, despite not really knowing who they are, could be a private investigator or your ex on a burner account trying to see your posts. Consider making your accounts private and be careful whose requests you accept.
  2. Remove your ex from your social media page and consider removing their family and friends too. It is not uncommon for one of these types of “friends” or followers to pass along a copy of your comments or photos, and before you even suspect it, that post shows up in court and is used as evidence against you at trial. These types of “friends” or followers are often the ones who are looking into everything you say or do on social media and trying to find something damaging to your case.
  3. Don’t post when you are angry. Nothing good can come from posting while you are angry. Try and channel your anger into something positive, or vent to family, friends, or a mental health specialist. If you are concerned that you can’t control your posts when you are angry, it may be wise to take a break from social media until your case is over.
  4. Do not talk badly about your ex or their family and friends. It’s easy sometimes in the heat of the moment to post something negative about your ex. It may not even be something that is obviously towards them but could be something subtle and passive aggressive. These comments could be taken out of context, or otherwise used against you in a court hearing. No matter how subtle you think the message may be, it is never a good idea to post things about your ex or their family and friends.
  5. Do not talk badly about yourself, your family or friends, or provide information that could possibly be reflect negatively on you. Just as you shouldn’t post about your ex and their family and friends, you shouldn’t post about yourself and your family and friends either. Again, things can be misconstrued. I recently saw an old friend post something on Twitter to the effect of “the last year has taught me that nobody hates me more than I hate me.” If they were in a family law case, this post would absolutely be used against them, even if they were just joking and did not actually mean what they wrote.
  6. Do not post comments or photos of yourself, your family, or your friends doing anything illegal or which may appear to be illegal, inappropriate, or compromising. This pretty much speaks for itself, but don’t post anything that would very clearly negatively reflect on you, your family, or your friends. There is just no need to post the pictures of you at your office holiday party taking tequila shots with your boss. Keep those for yourself—or maybe don’t take those pictures at all.
  7. Do not post about your children. If you have kids, it’s best to keep them off of your social media pages altogether at this time. Of course, you should continue to share special moments and take photos with your kids. However, it may be beneficial to take a break from posting about them on social media until your case is over. While photos of you and your kids or posts about them may be totally acceptable at any other time, while there is a case going on, you are under a microscope. Certain photos could be misinterpreted or there could be something in them you don’t even notice that could be used to call your parenting into question. The same goes for the stories you tell or comments you make about your kids—you just never know how something may be interpreted.
  8. Do not post about your income, or really anything about money, at all. There is nothing good that can come from writing about your income or your money on social media! It’s really as simple as that!
  9. Do not discuss your case publicly on social media. Again, nothing good can come from posting about your case publicly on social media. It will not look good for you with the judge, and as always, something may be misinterpreted or taken the wrong way by your ex or their lawyer.
  10. Do not post information about conversations with your attorney. This could be construed as a waiver of your attorney-client privilege, making admissible things that were said in confidence to your lawyer. Just don’t do it!

Social media can be a really fun part of our lives. But as you can see, it can significantly impact many areas of a family law case in a negative way. As a rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t want a judge or your ex’s attorney seeing the post or photo, don’t post it! And if you are questioning whether you’d be okay with them seeing the post or photo, just don’t post it!

By Logan Matura

 

At the Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., our Arizona Family Law Attorneys Gary Frank, Hanna Amar, and Logan Matura are strong litigators and compassionate counselors. Gary Frank is a Phoenix Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience as a litigator and mediator. He has also acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, and served on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force. Law firm Partner, Hanna Amar is a highly-skilled Arizona Family Law Attorney with a passion for Family Law and children’s issues. She has extensive courtroom experience, and is also a certified mediator. Hanna has also acted as the President of the Young Lawyer’s Division of the Maricopa County Bar Association. Associate Attorney Logan Matura is an Arizona Family Law Attorney who received her Juris Doctor degree from New York Law School in Manhattan, NY. While in law school, she served as an intern for a Family Court judge in the Bronx, NY, and was a member of the Family Attorneys Mobilizing club. Our firm handles Family Law cases in the areas of divorce, custody (now called “Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), relocation (move-away), division of property, spousal and child support, modification actions, enforcement actions, grandparent and step-parent and non-parent rights, as well as other matters pertaining to families and children. If you are in need of a consultation, call us today at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA & CUSTODY – How To Traverse the Minefield

This is already an old story, but it bears repeating:  How you use social media could determine whether you win, or lose, custody of your children.

Today, we all use social media.  It is how we stay connected to friends and family; how we network; and often, it is how we communicate our feelings and opinions.  But here’s a warning:  Comments and photos posted on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Match.com, and Blogs are considered to be admissible evidence in a custody case, and they have become a treasure-trove of information for lawyers, investigators, and the courts. In a contested custody case, your decision about what to post, and the type of pictures to post, could be the difference between keeping your children — or losing them to the other parent.

When we sit down at our computer, there is a false sense of anonymity.  When we put our thoughts on a Facebook page, it feels as though we are just talking to our closest friends . . .  all 956 of them.  The problem is that these “Friends” may include our ex-spouse, or some of his/her family or friends.  They may include “Friends” that we don’t know very well, or that we don’t know at all.  Therefore, it should not be surprising that comments or photos we post on social media could fall into the hands of people who might use them to do us harm.

In the recent Iowa case of Bates v. Bates (2012) a mother posted on Facebook that the children “have a really bad father.”  In emails, she threatened to alienate the children from their father; and in one, she stated: “When this is over you’ll be lucky if you get to talk to the kids on the phone.”  The Facebook post and emails were noted by the Court in its decision to take the children from their mother and award physical custody to the father.

In one of my own cases, involving spousal maintenance, a husband claimed to be earning very little income, yet we were able to show that he posted, on Match.com, that he earned over $150,000 per year.  In another case, a father who denied drinking or partying posted a Facebook photo of himself and friends with liquor bottles in their hands, making gang-signs.  And, in a third custody case, a “significant-other” posted a picture of the parents’ two year-old daughter sitting, all by herself, atop a very large horse (with no adults nearby).  Needless to say, all of these people hurt themselves by the way in which they used social media.

If you are involved in a divorce or custody case, here are some important tips:

1.  Be careful who you “Friend” on Facebook. (We all want to have lots of friends, but some of these “friends” can and will hurt you.  That “friend” who you don’t really know could even be a private investigator or someone who is aligned with your your former spouse.)

2.  Remove your spouse or ex-spouse – or the other parent, if you are not married – from your “Friends” list; and consider removing his/her friends and family members, as well.  (It is not uncommon for one of these types of “friends” to pass along a copy of your comments or photos, and before you even suspect it, that “tweet” or Facebook pic shows up in court and is used as evidence against you at trial.)

3.  Do not “tweet” or post on Facebook, when you are angry.  (That old “Count-to-Ten” rule is good advice and still applies.)

4.  Do not post derogatory comments about your spouse, ex-spouse, or the other parent, or about his/her family or friends.  (These comments could be taken out of context, or otherwise used against you in a court hearing.)

5.  Do not post derogatory comments about yourself, your family or friends, or provide information which could be construed as negatively reflecting on your parenting skills.

6.  Do not post comments or photos of yourself or your family or friends doing anything illegal, or which may appear to be illegal or compromising.  (The office Christmas party might have been a blast, but a photo of you kissing your boss, with a bottle of whiskey in your hand, may not be viewed as innocent fun by a judge.)

7.  Do not post negative or hurtful comments about your children.

8.  Do not post false statements about your job, or your income.  

9.  Do not post information about your divorce or custody case.

10.  Do not post information about conversations with your attorney.  (This could be construed as a waiver of your attorney-client privilege, making admissible things that were said in confidence to your lawyer.)

Social Media is an important part of our lives, and it’s fun.  Like fire, it is an extremely useful tool — but if you’re not careful, you can be badly burned.

So, here’s my last bit of advice, and my best:  Always think before you post.

Gary Frank is an Arizona Family Law attorney with over thirty years of experience as a courtroom litigator, a mediator, and a Judge Pro Tempore.  We deal with divorce, custody, paternity, spousal support and child support, modification actions, enforcement actions, relocation/move-away cases, grandparent and non-parent visitation and custody cases, and all matters relating to families and children.  We have offices located throughout the Phoenix Metro Area for your convenience.  If you are in need of a consultation, do not hesitate.  Call today.  You can reach us at 602-383-3610; or contact us by email through our website at garyfranklaw.com.  We’re standing by ready to help you.

 

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