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Social Media and Family Law- A Cautionary Tale

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Social media may offer surprising evidence for parents in family law matters.

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By Attorney Jeffrey B. Engle, Family Law Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

My colleague recently posted some interesting information about the use of social media in criminal matters.  Specifically, as it relates to impeachment evidence of victims of sexual abuse/assault crimes.  A victim may share terrible information with the police on day 1, but may be joking with friends on facebook and twitter on day 2.  Hardly the type of victim that the prosecution may wish to portray to the jury.  However, the same holds true for family law matters, such as divorce, custody, and support.

In a recent support matter in Pennsylvania, a parent testified that he was unable to secure work due to a pre-existing medical condition.  A condition that rendered him weak and unable to work.  He even provided a physician's verification that his ability to work remained "undetermined" due to his medical status.  He had even be placed on a list for a bone marrow transplant.  Pretty compelling, right?

Not so fast.  Father forgot that he had recently testified in an unrelated matter in family court, where he sought more custodial time with his child.  There, before a different judge, he said he was in "better physical health now."  On a social media account known as  "LinkedIn," father provided his extensive work history since July 1994.  His most recent entries, in fact, were just before the hearing.  There he advertised himself with "fourteen years of finance, accounting and audit experience."  He also identified himself on Facebook and Twitter as having been a realtor and dealing with "global properties."  In fact, he indicated on these sites that he had recently travelled to India and planned to go to Florida within a month following the support hearing.  The trial court found that mother had, indeed, established father's capacity to work.

The Bottom Line

Be careful of what you say about yourself on social media accounts.  Police yourself before going to court.  Ask yourself, is the information that I'm portraying the rest of the world, even if it is "puffing," is a fair and accurate statement?  There's no doubt that we all try to put our best face forward, especially on LinkedIn, which is a social media site for business.  However, if you are going to represent yourself to the court as something that is far different from your social media persona, be wary.  The court and opposing counsel may have some pointed questions for you when you step into that courtroom!

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