For many people in Australia, using social media to share aspects of their lives has become almost second nature.
The various social media channels available at our fingertips have become an all too accessible platform in which we are able to express ourselves and share exciting (and maybe sometimes, not-so-exciting) life updates. For lots of people, it’s also become their primary form of communication with the people in their lives.
While social media has done a fantastic job in allowing us to be connected wherever we are in the world, the ability to publicly share information so freely unfortunately has its downsides too. For instance, carelessly sharing information to various social media outlets can lead to certain emotional and legal implications.
In this piece, we’re going to discuss how the things you post could have an impact on a family law dispute that you may be currently involved in or one you may be involved in in the future.
Whether you’re an avid social media user or just a casual browser, if you’re involved in a family law dispute, it might benefit you to keep reading so as to learn what role social media could have in your matter.
Social media use in Australia
The use of virtual online communities is nothing new – since the birth of the internet, the desire to communicate with other users has been prevalent. And in the last 15 years, the use of social media in Australia, not to mention around the rest of the world, has rapidly increased.
Today, the most common social media platforms in Australia are Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Snapchat. There are approximately 21.45 million users of social media in Australia today – this number is up from 18 million users in 2019, and actually makes up 83% of the total population of Australia.
As you can imagine, this makes for a very connected population with endless amounts of information being shared with endless amounts of people.
People of all ages are using the internet and social media in Australia, which of course opens the door for any person to find out information about you and your situation. This is why it is important to think about the information you choose to share on social media platforms.
How can social media create issues in family law matters?
Social media allows us to share almost everything about our lives. From our thoughts, opinions, and feelings to photos and videos of precious moments in our lives.
For many people, sharing on social media is a way to update their closest friends and family about life events they are proud of – however, this is not always the case.
People often use social media as a place to vent or blow off some steam. This can be done in all kinds of ways – whether it’s by sharing thoughts and opinions or posting photos and videos. And often people vent about very personal aspects of their lives, including their frustrations towards another person or a situation.
However, it’s not only negative posts about other people that could cause issues. Posts that reveal aspects of a person’s lifestyle (such as a person who is involved in a family law dispute) that may be considered reckless, portray their lifestyle in a certain way, or contradict statements they have made in legal documents, can also impact family law proceedings.
The problem is that when you post on social media, this information automatically becomes public and could potentially be used as evidence in a family law matter in court. In fact, digital content, if legally obtained, can be admissible as evidence in a court of law.
Even if the intention behind a post is innocent, depending on the nature of the post, this could still lead to problems.
What types of social media posts can create issues?
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a temporary video that lasts for less than 24 hours, a status update, a photo or any other kind of social media post – depending on its nature, one post can have a profound impact on a family law matter.
Some of the types of posts that could cause problems include:
- The sharing of private information about a spouse or child;
- Complaints, negative or derogatory comments about a spouse or child;
- Sharing provocative images of either yourself or spouse;
- Sharing details showing a lavish lifestyle or news of a payrise or financial gain (especially when involved in property settlement, child support or spousal support matters);
- Videos, images or posts that show anti-social or risk-taking behaviours, including the use of alcohol or illicit substances (especially in cases that involve children);
- Posts that refer or allude to criminal activity;
- Screenshots of private messages that have been exchanged thorough communication apps;
- Posts or Facebook messages that contain threats of violence or admissions of previous violence;
- Employment history or business ownership;
- Posts of any nature that share any information about legal proceedings, including the people involved in the case.
Ramifications for these kinds of posts can vary depending on the circumstances. It may lead to questions and doubt surrounding a person’s credibility, the posts may impact the overall outcome of the matter or could maybe even lead to imprisonment.
What does the law say about posting on social media?
In addition to social media posts being able to be used as evidence of not only your character, but also your activities, your lifestyle, and even your parenting abilities, social media posts of a particular nature could see you in legal trouble.
Under section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), it is an offence to publish any information, including visuals like photos or videos, about a person involved in a family law proceeding. This also includes posting information about people the person is related to or witnesses to the proceedings.
The types of information that cannot be published includes information that could help to identify the people listed above, such as:
- Names, pseudonyms, alias, or titles;
- Addresses (residential and of the court);
- Descriptions of the person;
- Employment details;
- Information about your relationship to the person, or any other people involved in the case;
- The interests or beliefs of any of the people involved; or
- Property ownership details;
If section 121 of the act is breached, it could be punishable by 12 months imprisonment.
Cases where social media use has impacted family law proceedings
In recent history, there have been instances of people being referred to the Australian Federal Police to be investigated and potentially punished for breaching section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975.
In the 2020 case Yabon & Yabon, His Honour Justice Forrest referred the wife of a father who was involved in a family law matter regarding his children, to the Australian Federal Police for breaching section 121.
The wife, Ms Yabon, had uploaded videos of one of the children involved in the matter in an attempt to persuade people to donate to help the father (Mr Yabon) to fund his legal action. The videos showed the child saying negative things about their mother and stepfather.
In the 2021 case of Suris & Suris, the father in the case was referred to the Australian Federal Police for a serious breach of Section 121 by Her Honour Justice Carew. In this case, Mr Suris, the father involved in this parenting dispute, posted on social media numerous times about the proceedings including showing photographs, full names, and text messages from the children involved in the case. He also created a website to publish a documentary he was making about the family court proceedings.
While these are somewhat extreme examples of breaches of Section 121, they show that breaches can easily occur and be punishable.
Can you use social media when involved in a family law matter?
No one can stop you from using social media during a family law matter. However, the social media impact on family law proceedings is something that a reputable family lawyer will readily discuss with you.
As family lawyers ourselves, we suggest that our clients or anyone involved in a family law matter to really consider the need to use social media during a family law dispute, and do the following:
- If possible, pause all social media accounts and activity until after your family law proceedings are finalised. Most social media platforms allow you to temporarily disable your account without losing anything.
- If you need to maintain use of social media for work or school, avoid posting or interacting on there, and only use the areas that you need to.
- Update your privacy settings to the strongest settings available for the social media platform you are using.
- Under no circumstances should you discuss any aspects of your family law matter, including details of who is involved or that you’re involved in any matter at all.
- If you’re using social media as a source of evidence, you can save files and take screenshots to document your evidence, but do not interact with any posts that you are planning to use as evidence.
- If you must post anything at all, consider how this will appear to other people, including lawyers and the judge who may be handling your matter.
We can help you
Our family law team is highly experienced in all types of family law matters, including understanding and advising how social media posts may affect your case.
If you’re concerned about how social media posts that you’ve made or seen could impact your family law matter, you can discuss your situation with us today.
Call us today at 1300 667 461 for a free consultation.