Family disputes, particularly high-conflict family matters, can drag on for a long time and cause pain to everyone involved. When one or both parties are difficult on purpose, this can cause even more delays, in addition to prejudicing that party in the eyes of the court. A relatively new consideration for divorcing couples to think about is their conduct on social media, and how that may impact what happens in the courtroom.
Negativity Online Can Only Hurt a Case
When parents are involved in a high-conflict dispute, it is difficult to keep emotions in check. However, parties are advised to keep their emotions offline if they don’t want to potentially damage their position in court. When one spouse takes to Facebook or Twitter to publically attack their former spouse, this creates a paper trail that can be easily documented and submitted in court. The same also applies to other forms of written communication, such as texts and emails.
If there are children involved, this can have a major impact on parenting plans as well. If one parent is seen to be trying to alienate their children from the other parent, in particular, this may limit the time they are allowed to spend with the child. Not to mention the harm this type of negativity can cause within the family. For the best interests of the child(ren) involved, it is always advisable to keep negativity at bay whenever possible.
Social Media Posts Can Serve as Conflicting Evidence
In some cases, the arguments advanced in court may be discredited by social media posts. Much like a person claiming to be too injured to work who then posts about running a marathon, a person attempting to hide income or other assets may be telling one store in court and a different story online.
As demonstrated in an Ontario case, a father claimed he was unable to pay child support because he was unemployed and receiving social assistance. However, his social media history painted a different picture. The father had initially been ordered to pay child support in the amount of $193 per month based on an imputed income in the amount of $22,800 per year. The father claimed he had no assets, however, and could not afford this modest amount. The mother claimed that he had worked while they were together, consistently earning twice the income that had been imputed to him. The father was trained in construction and forklift operations, and the mother claimed that he often worked for cash in order to manipulate his financial status and avoid creditors.
She further claimed that he would sometimes earn income using his father’s social insurance number in order to maintain his social assistance income and unemployment benefits. The father disputed this and claimed he had been unable to work for two years and was entirely supported by his parents and his girlfriend.
To corroborate her testimony, the mother provided evidence from the father’s Facebook account, which showed him on three separate vacations in a years’ time, as well as attending various sporting events, concerts and nights out with friends at nightclubs.
A Question of Credibility
When it came time for the court to make a decision, a key factor was the credibility of the two parties. While the court found that the mother was highly credible, the same could not be said for the father. If he was in fact unemployed, it appeared to be a deliberate circumstance, as he was capable of working. Further, his social media posts indicated that he had a much more comfortable lifestyle than the one he portrayed in court. He treated the obligation to make full financial disclosure in a cavalier manner and appeared to be dishonest in several respects.
As a result of the courts findings, the support award was doubled, as was the income imputed to the father. This case clearly demonstrates that social media posts do not exist in a vacuum. Posts that can damage a party’s credibility or posts that demonstrate aggression or negativity toward a former spouse can hurt a party when it comes to both support payments and parenting plans. For any party going through a divorce, it is prudent to exercise caution when posting online, or sending other electronic communications.
At Baker & Company, our Toronto family law lawyers are highly experienced in high-conflict divorce matters and support litigation. We are committed to making the process of legally addressing a family matter as clear and approachable as possible. Call us at 416-777-0100 or contact us online for a consultation.