Courts Increasingly Asked to Direct Parties on Social Media Activity in Legal Disputes
As social media has become an everyday part of most people’s lives, courts have increasingly been asked to decide disputes over social media posts as part of many court cases. These issues are often decided as incidental to the main legal question at hand, as may be seen in the following two cases.
Social Media in a Family Law Dispute
In a recent Ontario family law case, the main issues raised related to custody, access and child support of a separated couple with two young children, then aged 9 and 7. However, those issues had been mostly resolved through settlement prior to trial and one of the only remaining issues before the court was whether the parties may post photos and information about the children on social media, such as Facebook.
The mother submitted evidence that the father had used social media to broadcast and discuss their ongoing legal dispute relating to the issue of access to the children. He had used it to raise funds to assist him with his legal costs and, in the process, had been very critical of the mother. Additionally, he had blocked the mother on social media.
In response, the father stated that he wanted to continue using Facebook as a means for his family to get to know the children.
The court found that associating the children to such a legal battle in a public forum was not in their best interests.
However, the court also found it reasonable that the father be allowed to publish photographs and comments regarding the children. It made a final order stating that, while the father may post photographs of the children on social media, such as Facebook, he was prohibited from posting “any comments regarding legal disputes, access issues to the children and/or derogatory comments made against the [mother].”
Social Media in an Estate Dispute
In another recent case, an Ontario court had to decide what constitutes an appropriate amount of interim dependant support for a large estate, as well as an unusual question regarding the proper use of the estate’s condominium and the posting of photographs of the property on social media.
The deceased was a wealthy real estate developer who amassed a significant net worth over his lifetime, estimated to be around $200 million. The distribution of the estate was still in the early stages. The motion for interim support was raised by his live-in girlfriend. After reviewing all the submissions, the court awarded her interim support of $30,000 per month.
Since the deceased’s death, his girlfriend had been living in the condo with her adult son, her son’s girlfriend, and their dog. While the deceased’s girlfriend had obtained a court order giving herinterim possession of the condo, the estate filed its own motion seeking an order that the deceased’s girlfriend be prohibited from hosting any future public or semi-public events at the condo and ensure that the other residents of the condo not make any social media posts (i.e., Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) in which the interior of the condo or its contents are featured and not allow any such posts to be made by others.
The motion came after the deceased’s girlfriend and her family used the condo to host a public fundraising wine tasting event. The court described it as follows:
“There is no evidence of how many people attended the event but photographs of it showing a number of different people in attendance were posted on social media. The photos contain images of the interior of the Condo, including valuable art work, furnishings, sculptures, antiques, fixtures and crystal. In addition, [the son’s girlfriend], who is an aspiring model, has posted professional pictures on social media taken of her in the Condo to promote her career.”
While the court recognized that the deceased’s girlfriend was entitled to sole possession of the condo, it also recognized that, given the valuable nature of the condo and its contents, the estate had an interest in not having it opened to the public or having pictures of the interior displayed on social media.
Therefore, the court ordered that the deceased’s girlfriend be permitted to entertain a maximum of 15 people at any one time at the condo, as well as ordering that none of the occupants of the condo or their families be allowed to post direct or indirect pictures of the interior of the condo on social media and that they must advise every guest of this restriction. On this issue, the court stated:
“I do not accept [the deceased’s girlfriend]’s submission that a restriction in connection with posting on social media of pictures of the Condo interior is simply unenforceable in respect of today’s young people. There is no reason or need for the occupants of the Condo or their families to post pictures of the interior of the Condo on social media.”
Family law disputes, estate disputes, and related issues can be emotionally and financially uncertain and can be one of the most stressful experiences in your life. If you are involved in a legal dispute, it is imperative to consult with and retain the services of an experienced lawyer as soon as possible so you can begin to understand your options and mitigate any legal and financial risks.
At Feigenbaum Law, our goal is to help you move forward following the breakdown of a relationship or a death in the family while retaining as much financial stability as possible. Mark Feigenbaum is able to counsel his clients on all potential risks that may result from a legal dispute. Contact Mark online or call him at (905) 695-1269 or toll-free at (877) 275-4792 to book a consultation.