A tweet seen by millions which caused havoc online.
For those of you who are not aware, Colleen Rooney had a suspicion that someone in her Instagram following was leaking stories about her to the press, so she continued to post fake stories on her Instagram to see if they were also leaked. Colleen had changed her account privacy setting so that Rebekah Vardy’s account was the only one able to view the stories and then those same stories were later in the press. Colleen announced the news to reveal the identity of the leak by a simple, yet dramatic, tweet. Rebekah experienced extreme backlash on social media and is now suing Colleen. Rebekah denies ever selling stories to the press.
This detective and investigative use of social media had me thinking – how far can you go, and should you even try, to play detective in family law disputes?
Can social media be used as evidence in family court proceedings?
Anything posted online, whether it be text messages or images on Facebook, has the potential to be used as evidence in family proceedings. For example, in children proceedings, text messages between parents can be used to show how one parent is not sticking to agreed agreements or perhaps photos on Facebook may reveal a new partner has been introduced to the children or that they were somewhere or doing something that was contrary to an agreement. In injunction proceedings, social media is increasingly used to either prove/disprove abusive or threatening behaviour. In financial proceedings, it is common for spouses to come across new information on social media regarding their spouse’s financial situation, for example: that they recently bought a new car, but did not disclose this within their financial disclosure.
To use social media as evidence it must be relevant to the current proceedings and provide a full picture. For example, submitting only the parts of a conversation to help you in your case can backfire. You cannot pick and choose. It is also possible for your evidence not to be admitted into the proceedings – for example if it is not considered relevant to the issues - so do not rely on it.
Playing detective in family proceedings
The Courts generally allow social media evidence as long as it is relevant and does not violate privacy. Research shows that nearly two thirds of UK adults (64%) currently in a relationship are not aware that it is illegal to hack into their partner's computer or other device to obtain information without their consent.
Therefore, accessing an account that does not belong to you, in the hope of digging up some dirt, is not a good idea for many reasons:
It is unlikely to reflect well on you if you have hacked into your spouse’s account, especially if it were to go into a contested court process
The evidence may be inadmissible in court as it is private
Separate legal action could be taken against you
Playing detective around your children
Recording a child, in attempt to show just how ‘bad’ an ex-partner is, has become increasingly common. Whether it is with full knowledge of the recording or done in secret, it does not paint the parent in a good light. If you record your child in secret, it will more often than not, paint you in a bad light. For example, it is common for the parent to ask the children questions in which they know will receive a negative response. Recording your child where they have full knowledge, only displays to the court the Court how far the parents have strayed from their role to put the child first.
Can I post anything relating to the proceedings?
During any type of family proceedings, the most important tip would be not to post anything online; it could breach confidentiality rules that see you risk being in contempt of court. It is also important to think about the following things:
Remember to review your privacy settings and update your friends/followers list
Think twice when posting about a new relationship whilst in the midst of a divorce as it may complicate matters
Do not post negative comments about your former partner or others involved in the situation
Remember your children, or even their friends, may have access to these sites and therefore see the content you are pushing out, albeit indirectly
To conclude, whilst it may be tempting to investigate your ex to ‘dig up the dirt’, it is important to think about the consequences. It is rare for such evidence to be the stand out ‘gotcha’ moment that many clients believe it will be. In fact more often than not it tends to reflect more poorly on the person trying to play detective. What might seem like a good idea at the time can on occasions backfire badly.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.