Could Your Status Updates Cost You Your Children?
March 16, 2016
Tags: Child Custody Issues, Divorce, Social Media
Filed in: Child Custody, Divorce, Family Law
Author: “>Tara L. Hofbauer
“Ugh. Why can’t he just leave us alone? K would be better off without him!! –feeling frustrated.”
“That’s it. Thank you to everyone who has ever been supportive of me throughout the years. Ya’ll are good people. But, I can’t take it anymore. She won’t even let me see the kids. I have nothing left to live for…..”
“Kids are driving me nuts today! WHY CAN’T THEY GET ALONG? I think it’s an ‘entire-box-of-wine’ kind of night for this girl!!”
These phrases likely look familiar to most of you. If they don’t, it is possible that you haven’t been sucked into the vortex of Facebook’s oversharing, in which case, read no further, you rebel against social media! You are not the intended audience. It is also possible you did not recognize these as Facebook status updates because they contained proper grammar and spelling. Many such outbursts are unintelligible. They are typed out on smart phones with fat, angry fingers and subject to the whims of auto correct. They are expressed in the heat of the moment. They are non-edited, verbal hemorrhages—a way to vent to 500 of your closest friends. In any case, these very public streams of consciousness can end up costing you your children. Iowa courts are routinely considering parties’ Facebook timelines, pictures, “likes”, and private messages as fair game in custody battles. In fact, one of the first things I do after meeting with a client for the first time, is to check the Facebook pages of both parties. This is because I know they often contain a goldmine of evidence—either good or bad.
It is probable that your soon-to-be-ex will be privy to any and all eruptions you spew onto Facebook. Even more troubling, however, is that your own children may have access. Most judicial districts in the state of Iowa require parties to attend a “Children in the Middle” class when children are at issue in a family law case. The purpose of such a class—avoiding putting your children in the middle of your disputes—may seem like common sense. Facebook statuses such as the first two in this post, however, showcase people’s very strong urge and emotional need to do exactly the opposite of what these courses teach. People need validation for their feelings. Is there any quicker way to receive such validation than to turn your internet friends?
In the first status update, lies a classic example of parental alienation. We do not know how old “K” is, but the internet never forgets. “K” is very likely to see this post at some point, even if she cannot search the internet in her current toddler state. Any judge who reads this as evidence at trial, is likely to consider the possible alienating effects this post could have between “K” and her father. This mom may be constructing a breeding ground of negativity between the child and her father. While this post in isolation would not lose this mother custody of her child, it very well could be considered in the bigger picture.
The second status update is not only alienating in nature, but it is quite telling of the poster’s mental state. I have seen numerous instances of veiled threats of suicide due to the other parties’ refusal to allow contact with the children—whether real or perceived. While many of these threats are empty, this is hopefully not something a judge would take lightly. You are declaring yourself an unfit parent to the whole world by posting something like this. Be wary of what you put in writing while you are going through a custody battle. Whether you were serious or not, the courts can and should take it seriously.
Finally, while the last status update example is light-hearted, be careful of these posts as well. An ambitious party could use this as evidence that either you are a parent who cannot control her children or that you drink too much while the children are in your care. The poster surely did not intend to portray either of these scenarios. Enterprising internet police (i.e. opposing parties and their allies) will do all they can to twist these light-hearted posts into further advancing their custodial agendas.
The persona you present on Facebook could be the very picture that is painted of you at trial. Are you the sum of your status updates? Hopefully not. Your goal should be to avoid helping the other party gather evidence to use against you. Do not hand it to them on a silver Facebook platter. If you are unsure whether to post, do not post. Silence is pure gold when it comes to social media and custody.