Sunday, July 26, 2009

Social Networking sites making their way into the Courtroom

With government satellites, GPS and surveillance cameras watching your every move the last thing you need is your personal information and habits being recorded and brought into court to be used against you. I recently posted information here about Electronic Tracking and the use of Store Loyalty Cards being introduced into evidence in child custody cases.

Well now you have one more thing to be concerned about. Fortunately, this is one that you have almost complete control over. Using social networking sites can be a convenient and fun way to keep friends and family updated about your activities. However, it can also be used against you in a child custody or child support proceeding.

The games you play, photos you post, questionnaires you answer, notes you send and your status updates can provide a treasure trove of ammunition. Those wishing to question your integrity or, more importantly, parenting skills or fitness to be the custodian of your children can use this against you in court. Therefore, it is important to limit what you put out there for the public to see. Simply making your page private will not save you. To illustrate what I am talking about I will use "Bob" as an example.

Bob is a NCP who has been hammered with child support payments and has fallen significantly behind. Bob was forced to move across the country after losing his job in the community where his children lived because his home community to longer offered the high paying position he needed to maintain those payments.

Now Bob wants to have the children come live with him and is seeking a modification of custody. Bob was recently arrested on an alcohol related offense but the charge was dismissed following his demand for a jury trial. Come back and take a look at this posting about demanding jury trials. The strategy explained there paid off for Bob.

I have been helping Bob with such things as seeking a support modification while he was unemployed and with his notice of intent to relocate. When it comes to child custody issues I only advocate for the position I believe will be in the child's best interest. So, before seeking a custody modification Bob must first work on some personal issues.

Here are two status updates that Bob posted on a social networking site.
"Thanks for all of the Birthday wishes....I would have a drink for each one of you.....But I would never see my NEXT birthday.....(Yes...I'll admit...I'm....Slowing....down.....a little....)”

I am happy to see that Bob is slowing down with the drinking and has made further progress since that time. I don't want to see this on his page though. It is an admission that he is a heavy drinker. Not long after that update came this one-
“Takes life with a grain of salt... A wedge of lime...and a shot of tequila..”

Oh Bob, am I still not getting through to you? My reply to that one did. Bob's updates now are much more about family and his children. His ex-wife hasn't been oblivious to his lifestyle though. She notes, "You have two mutually exclusive relationships going on right now, your seeming enamor with the 'Margaritaville' lifestyle or being of some use to your children, your family and the public at large.  I would think you have got to be getting tired of bar nonsense and excessive drinking that has yet again reared it's destructive head in your life for too many times to count now." She went on to mention the arrest and some other issues.

Bob is not only cleaning up his public persona but also himself. Projecting a father-of-the-year lifestyle on social networking sites is not a replacement for being a beneficial parent to your children, but it's not going to come back and haunt you at a custody hearing either.

In general you do not want to put photos or comments on your social networking sites that you wouldn't want displayed or read in court. This includes things like drinking parties, dangerous activities around children and bragging about luxurious purchases or vacations. Also, do not put comments about the other parent, the lawyers or judges on these sites while you are going through the custody battle.

The mining of social networking site information goes much deeper than what I have presented here.

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Parents who would like to achieve the best outcome for their children in a contested child custody case should visit my website and contact my scheduler to make an appointment to meet with me. Attorneys may request a free consultation to learn how I can maximize their advocacy for their clients.

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©2008, 2009 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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