Family & Divorce

What Impact Does Social Media Have On Family Law?

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be a blessing or a curse for people involved in family law matters, writes Morgan O’Brien-Powell.

social-media-apps.jpg

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be a blessing or a curse for people involved in family law matters, writes TGB’s Morgan O’Brien-Powell.


 

For social media to benefit separated families, it needs to be used responsibly by both parents and members of their extended family.

That means keeping a close eye on privacy settings and ensuring communication happens in a constructive way.

Provided that the proper privacy settings are enabled, parents might use the messaging features of social media to communicate with each other about family matters or to help their children share pictures and news.

If those social media tools aren’t used to communicate respectfully, there can be very serious consequences, particularly if you’re involved in proceedings before the Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court.

That’s because Section 121 of the Family Law Act, “makes it an offence to publish proceedings or images that identify people involved in family law proceedings”.

The penalties for breaching that Section of the Act can be very serious. For example, your activity on social media could be monitored by the Australian Federal Police.

In a 2013 decision, Lackey & Mae, the father had ignored previous written requests to stop making posts on Facebook that were in breach of Section 121 of the Act.

As a consequence, the father was Ordered to remove all existing posts about the proceedings from his Facebook account. The father and members of his family were also Ordered not to post any further information about the proceedings via social media.

The Judge in that matter went on to Order that the Australian Federal Police receive a copy of the judgment. The Court Marshal was directed to monitor the social media activity of the father for the next two years and was Ordered to investigate any breaches, and prosecute the father, where appropriate.

On top of those sorts of penalties, it is important to remember that the Courts may consider your conduct and your activity on social media when making decisions in parenting matters.

If you’ve separated, are involved in Court proceedings, and want to keep using social media – a good rule of thumb before posting anything is to make sure you’re being S-A-F-E:

Stop and consider, “should I post this”. If in doubt ask yourself, “ would I feel comfortable if a Family Court or Federal Circuit Court Judge read this?”

Ask yourself are there any possible consequences of posting? If unsure, obtain legal advice about your circumstances.

Family friendly – is my post demonstrating a respectful, responsible attitude to parenting?

Evidence – if someone finds reads the post later on, will I feel comfortable that I’ve displayed good ‘netiquette’, i.e: that I won’t be found to have made derogatory, cruel or nasty comments (or to have posted inappropriate images).

If you’ve separated but aren’t involved in Court proceedings, it’s equally as important to be cautious before posting, tweeting or hitting publish.


RELATED: The Advertiser: Divorcing parents warned of social media dangers

Tindall Gask Bentley is a leading Australian family law firm, with offices in South Australia, Western Australia and Northern Territory. To arrange an appointment contact us or register online.