Social media and family law don’t mix. A disgruntled dad who took it upon himself to create a Facebook page about his family law matter and post videos and commentary about his children has found himself in trouble with the law, after the Family Court ordered he be entered into a good behaviour bond for nine months as a consequence. The case is a good reminder of the dangers of mixing social media and family law proceedings.
In this case involving two children aged 2 and 4, heard in the Family Court in Adelaide, the children’s mother made a contravention application after the dad breached parenting orders made earlier by consent which included an order restraining him from publishing video, photographs and commentary about his proceedings on social media (whether that be Facebook, Youtube or any other platform).
The father’s postings identified his children both by his commentary and by photos and video, and to make matters worse, he also “gave an interview which resulted in an article being published an online newspaper and in the print newspaper and also set up an online petition calling for the mother’s re‑trial”.
Not only had the dad been explicitly restrained from making social media postings via the parenting orders, it’s also against the law in Australia to publish identifying details of children involved in family law matters (which is why parties in judgements published by the courts are anonymised with pseudonyms).
When this social media and family law contravention matter was heard in court, the dad admitted his breaches, and conceded that he didn’t have a reasonable excuse for his contravention.
The judge said “the father’s actions were deliberate and egregious” and that he “showed a serious disregard” of his obligations in respect of the law. But he noted that the dad now accepted that his postings had been inappropriate, that he had contravened the order and that he had “done all he can” to remove the offending posts.
But the judge determined that the social media and family law breaches still fell into the category of “more serious” contravention as defined in the Family Law Act. This is because the postings and media exposure had created “a more significant mischief namely, the odium that may be experienced by the children”. And further, despite the father’s claims that posts had since been removed from social media, the problem is that once things are posted online, the genie is out of the bottle. The judge noted that “what he has done may not necessarily be capable of remedy”, because websites beyond the dad’s control could still have the information available online:
“Third party agencies may well continue to promote and/or refer to the story and it could not be said that the father’s conduct was innocent or minor. The commentary, videos and photographs are emotive and contain detailed personal information of the children and the parties. The children’s identity is now public knowledge.”
Contravention of parenting orders of any kind is serious. The Family Court has a range of penalties it can consider imposing if you breach an order without a reasonable excuse. The kind of penalty chosen will vary depending on the particular situation and the seriousness of the nature of the contravention.
Penalties the Family Court can consider applying include: varying the original order, ordering parties to attend post-separation parenting programs, ordering you to pay the legal costs of the other party or compensation to them, ordering you to pay a fine, requiring you to participate in community service, entering you into a bond or even ordering you to be imprisoned.
In this particular case, the court noted that both parties agreed that the appropriate penalty should be a bond with a condition of good behaviour, as well as another order compelling him to comply with all parenting orders, which the judge said “provides an appropriate balance of punishment and deterrent”.
It’s a good reminder to anyone involved in a family law matter to be especially careful to avoid making any social media postings in relation to your case, whether or not you have been restrained from making such postings by orders or injunctions. Apart from the risks of being prosecuted for breaking the law or breaching orders, as always it’s important to think about the potentially harmful effect on any children involved, if their identifying details and their family situation are publicly exposed by social media posts.
You may like to read our blog on social media and family law.
If you need help with a family law matter, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.
You can read the case here.