Social Media in Family Cases
With Facebook alone now having over 2.2 billion active users every month, it is hardly surprising that family law practitioners are regularly faced with questions from clients about posts their ex-partners have uploaded onto social media.
Going through a divorce or separation is often cited as one of the most stressful events someone can go through and is all consuming for those involved. Therefore, it is understandable why people turn to social media to vent frustrations, share details, send messages and post comments in the heat of the moment without much thought of the consequences. It is, of course, all too easy to reach for your phone, post exactly what is on your mind and within seconds your friends and connections can see.
The problem is that social media activity can have a significant impact on family proceedings. As a general rule, social media posts are admissible as evidence in the Family Court. They can be used as evidence to advance numerous arguments including evidence of one party’s character, the adulterous relationship, the existence of a new partner, extravagant spending, abusive behaviour or even drug use. These issues can have an impact on financial proceedings and children cases.
For example, if one party is posting on social media photographs of the cruise they have been on and the meal out at the fancy Michelin star restaurant, it is going to be difficult to argue that they are suffering financial hardship and need the financial support from the other party. Photographs may also be used as evidence to show the existence of a new relationship with a wealthy partner or of a night out drinking which may also have bearing on the outcome of a case.
In any event, social media posts have the propensity to add fuel to the fire of already difficult circumstances and often muddy the water resulting in arguments becoming protracted and therefore wasting time and costs.
Social media posts can also result in legal action in their own right. In the case of Stocker v Stocker  EWCA Civ 170 (UKSC 2018/0045), the husband and wife divorced acrimoniously in 2012 following a 13 year marriage. There was an exchange of posts and comments on Facebook, on the wall of the husband’s new partner which included the wife posting that her Husband had “tried to strangle” her . The husband commenced libel proceedings because of these comments, which could be viewed by any of his partner’s friends. Following a trial, the Judge found that the wife’s comments were defamatory. The decision was then upheld by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court has granted permission to appeal. We will have to wait the outcome of this appeal.
Whilst the best advice is not to post anything on social media that relates to an issue that could be raised in family cases, if you do, here are our top tips:
- Avoid any negative comments about your ex-partner or their family.
- Remember that even if your ex-partner does not have permission to view your social media posts, the chances are that you will have mutual friends who do. Make sure you review your privacy settings.
- Think about who your “friends” are that will be seeing your posts; do you really want them to see details of your break up?
- Proceedings in the Family Court are private, therefore, if you post anything on social media about your Court Case you may be held in contempt of court; so, if in any doubt, do not post.
- Remember that your children might see your posts. Ask yourself, would you want them to read this?
- Deleting a post does not mean it is gone forever; screenshots may have already been taken.
For further advice or help with any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Richard Buckley who is a member of our Family law team in Sheffield, or Sophie Arrowsmith who is a member of our Family law team in Leeds.
Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.