Billions of users of social media networks regularly share their personal lives on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
The content posted on social media networks may be unsecured, accessible by others, and permanently recorded. For these reasons, individuals involved in family law litigation should be vigilant about their internet presence and content posted by themselves and their family and friends. Family law litigation outcomes often depend on the evidence, and internet postings have provided that evidence that can turn tables and prove cases.
For example, financial support obligations can be established with the use of internet pictures of extravagant vacations and luxurious lifestyles. Custody and access rights can be decided with internet postings of abusive behaviours or drug and alcohol abuse.
The following recent cases illustrate how courts in family law litigation have relied on evidence found on social media websites:
- Instagram posts were used as evidence to contradict a mother’s claims of hardship and to impute income – a mother posted pictures advertising a business for food and luxury items as well as pictures of vacations at luxury hotels, boating trips, ski trips, and champagne brunches (Friedlander v. Claman, 2018 BCSC 725);
- Instagram pictures were used as evidence of a father’s lifestyle and his ability to pay support – a father posted pictures of a Rolex, motorcycle, and condominium that represented a certain lifestyle (Biniaminov v. Biniaminov, 2018 ONCS 5454);
- Twitter posts were used as evidence of an ex-wife’s luxurious lifestyle and to justify the ex-husband ceasing spousal support payments – an ex-wife repeatedly tweeted about attending symphonies, gala events, nights out for dinners, drinks, and concerts, excursions with the Lieutenant Governor and mayor, and travelling in her white Jaguar (Beattie v. Beattie, 2013 SKQB 127);
- Instagram posts were used to support a claim to change the children’s primary residence – a mother’s pictures and comments showed that she had improperly relocated the children’s residence without the father’s consent (Stokes v. Stokes, 2014 ONSC 1311);
- Instagram posts were used to justify a court order preventing communications with children – a mother’s posts were harassing, abusive, vulgar, and hateful (Bedzow-Weisleder v. Weisleder, 2018 ONSC 1969);
- YouTube video was used as evidence of disrespectful behaviour during high-conflict custody litigation – a father posted a family video on the internet against the wishes of the children and mother (Bekeschus v. Doherty, 2011 ONCJ 232);
- Instagram and Facebook posts were used as evidence of domestic violence – account names were modeled after gangsters, certain posts included photos of the child wearing a heavy gold necklace, holding $100 bills, and others related to guns, cursing, and kidnapping (K.M. v. K.M.G., 2018 NSSC 159);
- Twitter and Facebook posts were used as evidence of illegal drug use for a stepfather seeking to terminate child support – a 20-year old child had posted Facebook pictures of herself appearing to use illegal drugs, and having a Twitter account name that contained a drug and alcohol reference (D.S. v. W.D.G., 2016 BCSC 1345);
- Facebook post was used to disentitle a father to his legal costs after winning at trial – a father’s post was extremely disrespectful to the rule of law, the administration of justice, and the judicial system (J.R.M. v. C.T.H. 2017 ONCJ 863);
- Facebook and YouTube posts were used to support an order for supervised access – a parent’s online complaining and cursing evidenced harassment and denigration of the other parent (M.B.A.Y. v. J.Y., 2013 ONSC 4423); and
- Facebook posts were used to support a claim to reduce an award of costs – a mother’s posts insulted the father’s new partner (Gillman v. Gillman, 2011 ONSC 1586).
Examples are abundant of instances in which social media networks have been goldmines of evidence for people pursuing, or responding to, family law claims.
Tips When Posting on Social Media
It’s always important to be mindful about what you and others post about you online. Even inaccurate pictures, comments, or connotations can be used as evidence against you in family law matters.
Those currently, or soon to be, involved in family law proceedings should consider the following tips:
- Be aware of your internet accounts. Know which internet accounts exist in your name or identity, especially old accounts that may not reflect current opinions and affiliations;
- Be aware of your own internet content. Review your posts and available content on your internet accounts, including pictures, comments, and user names and pseudonyms;
- Be aware of other people’s content relating to you. Review mentions, photos of you, tags, and re-tweets;
- Review your privacy settings. Review and update your privacy settings in each social media account to limit access to your content to only those people whom you trust with the information;
- Monitor your online presence. Regularly review what you have posted, and what others have posted about you, to ensure its accuracy;
- Do not post when angry or impaired. Refrain from posting any internet content at times when your judgment might be suffering from or impaired by temporary anger, upset, alcohol, or drugs;
- Do not mention the proceedings. Do not directly or indirectly refer to the family law proceedings, witnesses, or displeasure with the process; and
- Do not post offensive content. Most importantly, do not air grievances online or post content which could be seen as derogatory, rude, or offensive about anyone, especially an ex-spouse or parent to your children.
If you have any questions about how to address your social media content in family law matters, and how it might affect you, please contact Joanna Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or (905) 532-6675.