A recent CBC news story highlighted some new problems with dealing with your custody, access, parenting, child support, spousal support and property issues in family court. The internet takes advantage of the fact that all divorce, custody, support and property proceedings are both open to the public and public record. It has always been possible for people to walk into the courthouse off the street and ask to read all of someone else’s divorce court file. Now businesses are going in, retrieving those files, and posting the contents onto the internet. As the news story showed, what happened in your divorce proceedings may show up when someone Googles your name – or the name of your ex or your kids.
Having your divorce on the internet may cause lots of problems. Unlike the alternatives, such as collaborative practice, or family mediation and arbitration, court is an adversarial process. That means that it works on the basis of the sides putting in contradictory points of view and trying to get the judge to decide which is right. That usually results in conflict. It also results in a lot of nastiness and accusations being made in court documents as fighting separated spouses try to convince the judge that their ex is “bad.” If every bad thing your ex says about you shows up on the internet that might not help you if a potential employer does and internet search to check you out. In addition, all the nasty things you say, in the heat of the battle, may not paint you in the best light when someone is checking you out on line. Just think of what your kids would think if they Googled you and saw the allegations you were making about your ex and them.
If you are in family court on any sort of money matter (child support, financial support or property), you have to file a detailed personal financial statement. Not only does that financial statement list your bank accounts, investments, credit cards and other debts, as well as all the property you own, it also attaches your tax returns or notices of assessment which have your Social Insurance Number. That is all information that you may not want to show up on an internet search engine.
The alternatives to family court, such as collaborative practice, family mediation, arbitration and negotiation are all private. That means that whatever you and your ex say about each other, and what the mediator, arbitrator or lawyers say about both of you will not end up on the internet. They also have the additional advantage of not being as adversarial or adversarial at all, so you can avoid all the emotionally and financially draining attacks between you and your ex-spouse. All that fighting is bad for kids – much worse than the divorce itself (listen to this podcast). So by choosing an alternative to family court, not only do you keep all the allegations about your kids off the internet, away from their eyes and the eyes of others) but you can also avoid the big fights that will upset your kids and potential compromise the privacy of your financial affairs. You can hear more about the alternatives to family court in this podcast.
Of course, there are times when you have to go to court. If your ex is abusive, underhanded, has addictions, mentally ill, or will not cooperate unless there is a court order forcing him or her to do (or not do) certain things, then you may need to go to court. If your ex has those sorts of serious issues, then the court documents should reflect who the problem was really was. Concern about your internet image may is not a good reason to give up your personal physical or emotional safety. To avoid making mistakes after your separation, watch this video.
There are other ways that email, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking services can give you serious grief in your separation, divorce or child custody case. Here is just one example.
If you want to know more about what the court process is really like, or more about the alternatives to court, get a copy of this $20, easy-to-understand book on Ontario Family Law. However, it is always best to speak to a good family lawyer about the specifics of your situation in order to formulate the best plan to protect your rights and your children’s best interests.
For more information on divorce courts or any other family law related questions, please contact Toronto family lawyer John Schuman at 416-446-5080 or http://www.devrylaw.ca/family-lawyers/john-p-schuman/.