We’ve all been there and as a divorce lawyer here in New Jersey, I see it all of the time. That moment when you are so enraged and annoyed at what someone else did or said. Compulsively we run to Facebook and vent our frustrations. We want to share with our social media friends and family the horrible thing this person did or said. The problem is that momentary joy that comes from calling the other person to the carpet and airing their dirty laundry can have significant negative impact in your Divorce or Family Court cases. That is why it is so important to think before you post.
It is worth repeating. Think before you post. Once something is put in social media world, it is difficult to take it back.
Take this case as a cautionary tale:
I was retained by a Father who had not seen his children for approximately two years. He and his ex-wife had been married for twelve years and had three children, ages 15, 9, and 6. They had been divorced for approximately five years, and for the first three years following the divorce everything had run relatively smoothly. Unfortunately, Father suffered a work injury that left him permanently disabled and unable to continue his employment. As a result, his child support obligation was not being met because he was not working. Rather than contacting an attorney for assistance, he continued to allow the child support arrearages to accrue. Because of that arrearage, Mother stopped allowing him parenting time with the children. She would not allow him to visit or even speak with the children. Father was under the mistaken belief that he did not have a right to go to court for enforcement of parenting time because he was behind on Child Support Obligation.
After two years of not seeing the children, Father finally retained my services. We petitioned the Court for enforcement of parenting time. Mother suggested to the Court that due to Father’s disappearance from the children’s lives, they no longer wished to have a relationship with him. Mother insisted that she consistently attempted to convince the children that they should have a relationship with their Father and that it was simply not what they wanted. She even provided letters from the children’s teachers and school counselors advising that the children did not want to see Father. Mother was confident that Father would not get any parenting time.
What Mother was not prepared for was the thorough source of investigation into her social media content that I conducted prior to court. I was able to provide the Court with really clear insight into why the children actually did not want to see their father. I presented the Court with no less than 250 printouts from Mother’s Facebook page. Each and every one of these 250 printout included, whether “memes” or “posts” referenced how Father was a deadbeat, did not want to see his children, did not love his children, and only she loved them. Additionally, the Judge was outraged at Mother for making these posts in light of the fact that their older two children had Facebook accounts, were “friends” with Mother and had access to see all these disparaging comments. In fact, I presented the Court with proof that the oldest child actually asked Mother to stop making those comments about his father in the beginning. However, after two years of a constant onslaught of these types of posts, approximately one every three days, the children were thoroughly poisoned against Father.
The Judge was appropriately angry with Mother and found that she had been alienating the children from Father. He ordered immediate reunification therapy, to be paid by Mother. Reunification Therapy is a type of therapy that is used to reunite an alienated parent with their children. In this case, reunification therapy was used to reestablish the relationship between Father and the children so that they could move forward without having their bond severed again. The Judge also ordered Mother to pay the costs of bringing that motion to the Court. The Judge warned that if she continued to alienate the children, continued to disparage Father, or refused to cooperate with reunification therapy, the Judge would revisit her status as the parent of primary residence. Most important to Father, the Judge also ordered compensatory parenting time, which means that Father was granted additional parenting time to make up for the parenting time Mother had effectively taken from him.
The moral of this cautionary tale is two-fold. First, think before you post. If you would not want someone to show the post or picture or statement to a Judge, do not post it. Second, arm yourself with an attorney that understands technology and social media and is in a position to locate whether there is social media content that would be helpful or harmful to your case.
This blog was written by Jessica R.Arndt, Esq. an excellent new addition to our team at the Law Offices of Edward R. Weinstein. Jessica devotes her practice exclusively to family law matters, with emphasis on alimony/spousal support, divorce, equitable distribution, marital agreements, child custody and support, and domestic violence actions.