Technological advancements over the past few years have resulted in a dramatic increase in social media use. Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Instagram, just to name a few, now all facilitate instant communication between users.
Social media has also been a useful tool for separated families when used responsibly. It has allowed parents and children to remain connected and exchange instant pictures and messages. This type of communication is also frequently included in Parenting Orders to ensure that children have regular communication with both of their parents when they are not physically with them.
When used irresponsibly, however, social media can have many pitfalls for separated parents. One party simply ‘blowing off steam’ or ‘venting’ on social media about their ex-partner can have a detrimental effect on their family law matters. In a matter of seconds these posts, comments or photos are accessible to countless people and once posted on the internet, the author loses control over the content. Even after a person has deleted a comment or photo from their social media it may have already been copied or saved by another person, and the damage may already be done.
In recent times, the Family Law Courts have also been increasingly willing to accept social media as a form of evidence. Parties frequently include negative and damaging messages, emails, text messages and photos received from their former partner via social media in their affidavit material.
Furthermore, section 121 of the Family Law Act makes it an offence to publish any account of proceedings or images which identifies a party or child involved in family law proceedings. If found guilty of such an offence, a person may be fined or imprisoned for up to one year. It is therefore important that parties refrain from posting information about their cases on social media.
In the 2013 case of Lackey and Mae  FMCA fam 284, the Father and his family made derogatory comments about the Court, the Independent Children’s Lawyer, expert witnesses and the Mother in relation family law proceedings on social media. The Court found that the Father had breached section 121 of the Family Law Act 1971 and ordered that the Father and his family remove from Facebook all references to the Court proceedings and prevented him or his family from publishing further material relating to the proceedings, the Mother or the Mother’s family. The Australian Federal Police were also provided with a copy of the Court’s orders and were asked to monitor the social medial activity of the Father and his family for a period of two years to ensure that they were complying with the court orders. It was further ordered that if the Father or his family breached the orders, the matter was to be referred to the Australian Federal Police for prosecution.
It is therefore imperative that parties monitor what they are posting on social media in relation to their ex-partners and/ or family law proceedings to ensure that they do not adversely affect their matter or find themselves in breach of the Family Law Act.