Monday, April 4, 2011

The Intersection of Social Networking Websites and Family Law

As I was firing up my internet at the office today, one of the highlighted articles on msn.com addressed the impact of Facebook in divorce cases.  Of course, as a family law practitioner, the article peaked my interest.  I am seeing more and more potential divorce cases that are the result of social networking sites.  Wives who are unhappy that their husbands have private sites and will not allow them access or accept their friend requests, spouses who become suspicious because their spouse has changed their status from married to single, or a spouse who reconnects with an old high school flame which leads to an extramarital affair.  The possibilities are almost endless. And unfortunately, the impact of these social networking sites is not just limited to initial divorce cases.
 
Like it or not, social networking websites are a gold mine for family law attorneys.  Just in my practice, I have seen posts from MySpace and Facebook come into evidence on issues of child support, parenting time and custody.  For instance, consider this scenario: mother alleges she is unable to work and earn any income, but on her Facebook page posted about housekeeping and daycare services she is providing to friends and family.  Father's attorney could mother's posts to not only discredit mother on the stand but also to impute potential income in the calculation of the child support obligation.  Consider the father who is seeking more parenting time who posts to his MySpace page about how much he is enjoying his day off, hanging out drinking and partying, followed by "off to pick up my kids."  A savvy opposing counsel can introduce father's posts as evidence that the father's parenting time should be supervised or otherwise restricted if father is drinking and driving with the children in the car.

When custody and/or parenting time are at issue, court-appointed evaluators may be interested in viewing the posts of not only the parents but also the children.  Often the children's posts will provide insight into what is going on in their lives, and can provide a glimpse of how the children view themselves and their parents. 

We are only just beginning to see the impact that social networking sites are having on family law. As family law practitioners, we must be aware of the hazards and dangers to our clients in using these websites, and we need to advise our clients accordingly.

6 comments:

  1. As for the use of internet posts as evidence in family law hearings - i think this is a huge step towards a fair outcome. It is a long-standing tradition for people to put their best foot forward in court, often leading to the party who can fake it better and/or which attorney has more charisma deciding the outcome of the case. Social networking sites allow a better glimpse into the character and habits, as well as the character and habits of their close friends, which is often just the information needed in a family law hearing - especially when children are involved.

    However, in criminal cases, i think that social networking sites have the potential of being a terrible addition. When the question is "did he/she do it" rather than "is he/she a good parent" or "what does he/she deserve", the information found on social networking sites can sway a jury into believing cirumstantial evidence because it sounds characteristic of the defendant.

    My guess is that there will be a powerful precedent set as to whether or not posts from social networking sites are admissable in court for both types of cases.

    If the question is: Is information from social networking sites circumstantial evidence, hearsay, or does it help to establish the character of the defendant/plaintiff, and, is it relevant?
    My answer: it depends...

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