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Social media in family law – oversharing is not caring

Nicole Cavanagh, Senior Associate, is head of the family law division at MJM Barristers and Attorneys

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. So states Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In 1968 when the convention was woven into the fabric of Bermuda’s constitution, few could have predicted the advent of social-media platforms or that a single voice could reach an audience of millions within seconds.

Nowadays, on a daily basis, billions of people take to the stage with their opinions, life events, joys and woes, present location and much more. The exercise of such freedoms should carry with it a sense of responsibility and perhaps a duty of care, but that is not always the case.

As digital content becomes more widely accepted by the court systems globally, the use of social media as evidence in family law cases is on the rise. The opposition may see your ongoing use of social media as an opportunity to gather evidence against you, and unfortunately this is the reality for many unsuspecting individuals.

Have you ever considered how your social-media footprint could impact any present or future family law case?

The typical behaviours that can cause issues during family proceedings tend to be:

• Posting photos in which you disclose that you have engaged in risky or dangerous behaviours, such as drinking to excess or drug taking

• Announcing a new relationship or posting photos of yourself and a new partner

• Providing information about a pay rise, job promotion, lavish spending or a new asset purchase

• Criticising or complaining about someone else involved in the proceedings or the legal process

Any of the above can provide ammunition to derail your case. It could be alleged that you have more money than you disclosed or that you are an irresponsible parent and should not have custody or access to your children. Even if the allegations are untrue, the cost and time spent proving it can be just as detrimental and, therefore, best avoided altogether.

It is also safe to say that during legal proceedings, even what appears to be harmless at the time of posting may come back to haunt you. To avoid incriminating yourself:

• Do not reveal any information about your case or those involved in it. Family law proceedings should be kept private to protect the parties, their children and wider family members

• Update your privacy settings on all social-media accounts and change your passwords post-separation to avoid snooping. What you think is private may not be so. Friends of friends and even strangers can access your posts without you knowing about it

• Make sure friends and connections know that they should not post information about you or tag you in their photos

• Always consider what the judge may think when reading your posts or comments in the context of your court proceedings

• Remember that many children and young people have their own electronic devices and can access social-media sites with ease. Whatever you post could be seen by your children, not only now but for years to come

The rate at which technology advances is startling, to say the least, and as we know, what goes online, stays online, as even private and deleted data can still be accessed. The best advice is to pause your social-media involvement and avoid all posting and commenting during ongoing proceedings.

Of course, it has to be said that social media is not all bad in the legal world and there are huge advantages to reaching an audience of millions in the case of an emergency. One such illustration is the Amber Alert, an emergency response system used in 25 countries on Facebook and Instagram to spread information in the case of a missing or abducted child. As family lawyers, we are often involved in cases of international child abduction, such as when a child has been taken abroad by a parent and not returned home. The Amber Alert has proved extremely successful and as at January 23 this year, 1,127 missing or abducted children had reportedly been recovered as a result of the system.

The outcomes of family cases can be life-changing for those involved, so a proactive approach to avoid any problems arising should be taken where possible.

• Nicole Cavanagh, Senior Associate, is head of the family law division at MJM Barristers and Attorneys

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Published March 15, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated March 15, 2023 at 8:13 am)

Social media in family law – oversharing is not caring

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