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What place do pokes and tweets have in family law?

View profile for Mike Devlin
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The use of social networking sites has become a daily issue for family lawyers. They have led to many allegations of extra marital relationships not only being formed as a result of links but also being found out by their spouse who has seen comments online. It is now common practice for such means of communication to appear as evidence in all types of family proceedings.

A recent survey has indicated that in 15 per cent of cases taken out by the wife, the major complaint is the amount of time spent by the husband on their computer. One in five petitions refers to Facebook which allows its members to see photos, images and comments about themselves. It is no longer necessary for the suspicious party to try and steam open the post, listen to conversations or go to the expensive length of hiring a private investigator. In one particular case a lady logged on to Facebook to be told that her husband had ended the marriage.

Twitter is another networking site which is becoming increasingly popular. Twitter allows people to follow friends, family or even their favourite celebrities by reading updates which tell them what they are up to on a minute by minute basis in some cases. Clients often produce such evidence to show how many holidays their spouse has been on and yet the spouse pleads poverty and cannot provide for the children.

The phenomenon of social networking is ever increasing and has led to a wave of super injunctions being sought by celebrities who have been caught out in extra marital relationships.

So where does this all lie within family proceedings and what advice can we give? Firstly, clients must be aware that family proceedings are private and any breach within court proceedings could lead to the court imposing punishment on the offending party.

When a relationship breaks down it is important to consider the other parties access to sites. Clients should change passwords and emails so that access is denied to information that they wish to keep private. However, as family lawyers we have to be more and more alive to the changes in communication between people. If our clients do not know the addresses of their former partners are we going to be making applications to the court to serve via Facebook or Twitter?

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