Facebook & Family Law

2 December 2010

With the introduction of the social networking site Facebook, people are communicating and sharing more information online.

Although the site is beneficial for allowing people to get in touch with others and providing an easy way to communicate and share information, users need to be careful about what information they provide about themselves. Recent cases in the area of Family Law have illustrated that information posted on Facebook can be used against parties in court proceedings and the Court will not hesitate to extend the long arm of the law to such social networks for the purposes of service of court documents.

Facebook has been referred to in family law proceedings in the following contexts:

  • In a 2010 child support dispute in Adelaide, a court ordered that Facebook be used to serve a paternity test on an elusive father. The man was unable to be contacted in order to undergo a paternity test, but as the man was a regular Facebook user, the Judge ordered that the documents be served electronically through using Facebook’s private messaging service.

  • Facebook is also generally referred to in Family court orders relating to children, for example restraining a party from publishing photos of their children on Facebook to the general public or limiting access to the children’s photos or information about children to family members only. When determining the amount of contact a child may have with a parent, parties may be restrained from adding the child as a ‘friend’ on Facebook, communicating with the child via Facebook in any way or restraining a party from allowing a child to use the site altogether.
  • Parties have attempted to adduce evidence of each other’s Facebook page and in particular negative photos indicating adverse behaviours and inability to provide appropriate care for children. The court has held however, that Facebook photos reflect only transitory moments in time rather than reflecting somebody’s behaviour generally.
  • Photos have been used as evidence that a party has not complied with a parenting order. For example, a photo of a father and child doing an activity prohibited by the parenting order.
  • Communications on Facebook have also been used to indicate arrangements made regarding the children and consent issues generally. In child abduction cases, where a party has left the country with their child, communications between the parties through Facebook has been used to indicate that the parties had consented to the child leaving the country or that a party intends to leave the country, taking the child.
  • Where child abuse is an issue, communications on Facebook may indicate whether a party is concerned of the child’s safety.
  • In marriage disputes, photos posted on Facebook of weddings have been used as evidence to support arguments that a marriage is invalid.
  • Facebook also creates disclosure issues when parties publish information on Facebook relating to the proceeding and any information from which the parties to the proceeding may be identifiable, in addition to any offending material about the other party. For example, in one case a person’s facebook post revealed that she engaged in certain conduct in relation to the proceeding purely so that the father would incur large legal bills. The court stated that there would be consequences for such behaviour.