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Think before you post! Facebook rants about your ex-partner could fall into the hands of a Judge…or worse

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By Deborah Kliger, Lawyer, MST Lawyers 

Most social media users have experienced that moment of contemplation before posting contentious or potentially embarrassing material on their profiles, including political opinions or gratuitous “selfies”. The fallout from posting such material is generally a string of disapproving comments from online “friends” or “connections” or an unfed ego (from not getting enough “likes”).

More seriously, posting material relevant to family law proceedings on social media could amount to a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for a period of up to 12 months under section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975 (“the Act”).  

Are you posting illegally?

Section 121 of the Act prohibits a person from publishing or disseminating details of family law proceedings via electronic or other means (including newspaper, television or radio), that identifies:

  • a party to the proceedings;
  • a person related to or associated with a party to the proceedings or a person alleged to be in any way concerned with the subject matter of the proceedings; or
  • a witness in the proceedings.

The Federal Circuit Court case ofLongford v Byrne [2015] FCCA 2504 involved an application by a father for interim orders providing for him to spend time and communicate with his children. By the hearing date, the father had been convicted of assaulting his estranged wife (“the mother”)  and was facing further charges for intervention order breaches. The father had also failed to comply with previous court orders for mandatory drug testing. The father’s application for interim orders was dismissed.

The father vented his frustrations on Facebook in a number of damning posts about the mother, including posting a photo of her and the children captioned “My name is Ms Longford. I am a child thief.” 

The Independent Children’s Lawyer made an urgent application seeking to injunct the father from posting such material on the internet and requiring him to pull the offending posts down.

Judge Harman made orders restraining the father from posting on the internet or otherwise publishing:

 

  1. Any photograph of the mother or children;
  2. Any reference to the mother or children; or
  3. Any comment on the mother, the children, the court proceedings or any issue relevant to the proceedings.

 

The father was also ordered to remove any posting on Facebook or other social media page controlled by him meeting the above criteria.  

Judge Harman heavily criticised the father for posting information identifying the mother and children “that could lead anyone…directly to the mother’s door.”

While the Facebook posts placed the mother and children at risk, they did not specifically refer to the court proceedings that were then on foot. Judge Harman declared that, had this been the case, he would have referred the Facebook posts to the Court Marshal to consider prosecuting the father.

Take home message

Grievances relating to your ex-partner or your family law matters should only be discussed in private with close relatives or friends, your lawyer and medical professionals; not posted on social media.      

If you have any questions about family law and social media use or any other family law matter, please email our experienced Family Law team at family@mst.com.au or contact us by telephone  Ph: +61 3 8540 0200.