Jennifer Hetherington (pictured), from Hetherington Family Law, has issued a warning over the use of social media in family court cases, saying that the guaranteed way clients will lose “is to wage war with [an] ex on social media”.
Ms Hetherington said that she has seen an influx in clients using social media to attack their ex-partners, noting that it often comes back to haunt them when the case lands before the Family Court as social media posts are being used as evidence, particularly in parenting matters.
“This can rebound on people. There are a significant number of cases where social media has been accepted as evidence in parenting cases,” Ms Hetherington said.
“In one Australian case, a mother denied that she had a new partner but her Facebook relationship status (‘engaged’) and posts about her ‘fiancé’ were taken as evidence.
“She claimed that it was just a joke but in cross-examination, when presented with her Facebook post in which she wrote, ‘Whatever looks better for me in Court’, the woman conceded that she would say things to make her case look better.
“In a case I was handling the other side posted details on social media about their new business, while claiming to be unemployed. That certainly helped with the child support investigation.”
Ms Hetherington added that it’s also common to see former partners “fishing on social media to gather evidence on their ex’s, which they can put before the Family Court”.
“My advice is don’t do it,” she said.
“The courts are not giving such tactics any weight and in fact the knowledge that social media can be manipulated only damages the credibility of the person using it against their former partner.
“Don’t use social media for any kind of evidence-gathering process because everything you post is there for all time, and it could rebound on you.”
This, she noted, includes making accusations against the ex-partner.
“A separation process is traumatic, so the important thing is to maintain your integrity. If you go to social media with claims and accusations, the court may feel it undermines your integrity,” she said.
“Uncensored and unvetted social media posts have the risk of conveying unfounded allegations, which can be misrepresented as fact. Just one lie to a social media audience could undermine everything you argue before the court.”
Ms Hetherington provided another example of an Australian reported case, whereby a mother’s Facebook posts were used as evidence to prove her intention to deliberately “run up” the father’s legal costs.
As a result a costs order was made against her, Ms Hetherington said.
“Regard anything you say about your ex-partner as potentially ending up in front of the judge. So think about what you are doing before you make any post on Facebook and Twitter, and the rest of the social media platforms,” she said.
“Angry messages posted on social media forums are out of your control the moment you upload them. Anything you post could come back to haunt you.”
Emma Ryan is the deputy head of editorial at Momentum Media and editor of its legal publication, Lawyers Weekly.
She graduated from Charles Sturt University with a Bachelor of Communications (Journalism).