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Child Custody Expert - Potential Bias Based on Facebook

In divorce conferences with clients, they bring in Facebook screenshots to show alleged indiscretions by their spouse. Facebook discussions with new friends or lovers, notes indicating binge drinking, late night partying, and photographs of spouses with new "friends" are brought in to show their spouse's bad behaviors. One client brought in Facebook photos of  his spouse indicating that the spouse bid thousands of dollars to dance with a New England Patriots star and singing "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" to him. Yes, these screenshots may be used at a trial but more often lead to successful settlement negotiations or mediations.

A Utah Court of Appeals reviewed a different social media relationship in a child custody dispute. During a child custody case, a clinical psychologist conducted a custody evaluation. The mother's attorney used a Facebook screenshot to illustrate a personal friendship between the clinical psychologist and the father's attorney. That friendship, if established, would cast doubt on the impartiality of the psychologist's recommendations. There was an indication in the reported case that the psychologist who testified and the father's lawyer often shopped together and had more than just a professional relationship.

Socializing on Facebook is a connection between people that is often fun and interesting. Photographs and opinions are shared. An appearance of close personal relationship can develop and that appearance can affect a Court in many different ways. The Utah case is an example when a Facebook friendship was the basis of a charge that the psychologist's opinion should be discredited due to a bias favoring the father's attorney. I imagine that neither the psychologist nor the attorney expected their friendship to be used in the court room as evidence of bias in a child custody battle. Everyone should remember that what is placed in social media may be used in many ways.

We warn all of our clients to be constrained in their use of Facebook and all social media, including Twitter during a divorce proceeding and be careful when accepting new friend requests.

Rebecca Black. Vs. O. Holger Henning, No. 20100597-CA, Utah Court of Appeals (2012 UT App 259), September 20, 2012.

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