As social media has become embedded in our daily lives, it has had a transformational impact on the way we communicate and interact with each other. As a family lawyer whose career spans over 35 years, I am well aware of the significant impact that social media has had on family law.
Notably, a recent study from the Family Law Review found that social media related evidence has been used in approximately 82% of family law court cases in Australia.
Since social media has become more common place, the interactions, conversations, and posts that are made on social media platforms introduce a new source of evidence in family law cases.
I have been involved in cases where content posts, photos, videos, comments and messages have been drawn upon as evidence in child support, divorce and custody cases. These types of posts shed a light on a person’s lifestyle, relationships and habits and they may affect determinations made on spousal and child support as well as custody arrangements.
This is especially true if one person’s social media behaviour reflects negatively on them, particularly in their treatment of their spouse or their parenting capacity. We are often reminded by people who are ‘cancelled’ online to be careful of what you post on social media.
This notion is especially true in family law cases, as lawyers will draw on all types of social media posts to be used as evidence.
We often hear of cases where cyberbullying is involved in a family or criminal law matter. Revenge porn and digital domestic violence, where someone may use technology to harass, abuse and terrorise their partner often factor in cases which involve intervention orders, domestic violence cases, and child custody.
Cyberbullying is demonstrative of ways in which social media not only impacts family law but also the ways in which domestic violence can be perpetrated.
Similarly, I have been involved in cases where I have seen the impact of social media on co-parenting relationships. There are occasions where a court may issue a no contact order between two parties, yet parents may continue to communicate via social media as opposed to official channels of communication such as emailing or through legal representation that may be ordered by the court.
When this occurs, it can complicate family law matters particularly as they relate to the management of co-parenting arrangements and compliance with court orders.
As a lawyer, there are several types of social media posts that I would identify as having a significant impact on family law cases, explicitly as they pertain to the type of evidence used in court cases.
- Posting content that criticises or denigrates another party. These posts can be used as evidence to demonstrate hostility and a lack of cooperation from one party towards the other.
- Posts that reveal a party is engaging in neglectful and abusive behaviour towards a child or a partner. This can include posts where a party may seek to alienate a child from the other parent. This type of material generally affects domestic violence and child custody cases.
- Posts that show a party has made a a significant financial purchase such as an a new vehicle, house or expensive holiday, may be used in a financial settlement or property dispute case. These type of posts can reveal a party has had a significant change in their life, has not been truthful about their financial circumstances or is engaging in a wastage of assets.
- Content that depicts that one party is not acting as a suitable parent, particularly posts that show alcohol or drug use.
- Posts that show a party in a romantic or sexual relationship with someone other than their partner can be drawn upon as evidence in divorce cases.
Family Law Cases Impacted by Social Media
While social media evidence appears to be regularly presented in Family Law court cases, there is the question of how greatly the evidence is weighted by the presiding judge.
The same Family Law Review study found that 36% of social media evidence was given a high weighting by the presiding judge. In certain cases, such as Longsdorf v Granger , the father presented to the court evidence of the mother’s relationship status on Facebook, indicating that the mother had a new partner. The mother attempted to have the court dismiss the evidence by arguing “what is on Facebook is not real.” However, the judge sided with the Father and gave the evidence appropriate weighting in the trial.
Social media content from children’s accounts has also been presented in court. In Terry v Grant , the father presented evidence from his daughter’s Facebook account where she had stated “I want to die in a hole” as evidence to demonstrate her contemplation of self-harm. Similarly, on the question of relocation, in Meacham & Meacham  the father argued against the mother’s request to relocate her children by producing evidence from her daughter’s Facebook post that said she “misses her old school friends.”
The Family Court Case Lackey v Mae  further demonstrates the intersection and implications of social media in family law matters. In the case, the father had found to produce content in his Facebook account that aspersed the mother of his children. He had published content that featured a photo of her, revealed her private details and referred to her as a “cheating, lying whorebag.” The court ruled that the father had used his Facebook account “as a weapon” to damage the mother’s reputation and issued a court order that forced him to remove existing content about and disallowed him from posting derogatory content about the mother in the future. The order was enforced by the Australian Federal Police. The judge on this case noted that the “abuse” occurring on social media was a “regrettable common practise nowadays” in family court cases.
As such, social media is used in family court cases much the same way as other sources of evidence both digital and physical. Where it poses significant implications for the family law system in Australia is because social media platforms are widely used and often provide in-depth insights into a person’s life events and their thoughts.
The new array of evidence is not only relevant in terms of digital domestic abuse but also regarding the revealing of opinions on parenting, their ex-partner and of life events such as significant financial purchases and new partners.
If you require legal assistance or seek legal advice on a family law or criminal law matter, contact Rowan Skinner and Associates Lawyers in Melbourne.
Rowan Skinner is a Law Institute of Victoria accredited family law specialist. Our law firm has high expert and skilled lawyers in Melbourne who can help you know your legal rights and get you the best outcome. Contact (03) 9995 9155 for a free no obligation 15-minute phone consultation.
Rowan Skinner is a highly skilled family lawyer with over 35 years of experience across various legal roles and jurisdictions. Rowan specialises in resolving family law disputes such as divorce, financial settlements, child custody and domestic violence cases. Through his diverse and extensive experience, Rowan has a deep understanding of the complexities and nuances involved in family law. Rowan is a skilled negotiator and litigator who follows a compassionate and client-focused approach which prioritises helping you navigate what can be an emotional and challenging time.