Our Pennsylvania Family Law clients often ask about the admissibility of text messages and social media profiles/messages in family law matters. While this area of the law is constantly changing, any person anticipating being involved in a family law case must assume that their “internet persona” could potentially be used in court as evidence, especially in a child custody matter.
While the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence require authentication of evidence, and generally text messages and social media profiles must be authenticated prior to their admissiblity in court, many family law proceedings are more informal and thus Judges may consider this evidence in making their decisions. Anything that a parent places on the Internet that is accessible to the public is generally “fair game” in a family law proceeding, especially in motions court when discussing child custody issues.
Family Court Judges must consider 16 factors as defined in the Pennsylvania Statutes when deciding a child custody matter. Often Judges will consider things such as Facebook or Twitter posts in making their decisions if these social media posts reflect on either parent’s ability to maintain stability in their household, if the content reflects a level of conflict between the parents, or if one parent is openly discussing or displaying photos of illicit behaviors. Additionally, text messages between the parties can also be considered by the Judge if relevant to one of the child custody factors, and the Judge may afford the evidentiary weight to the messages as they deem fit given the circumstances of the parties.
Just as individuals are instructed to be mindful of their social media profiles when interviewing for a job or during their employment, any person involved in a family law matter in Pennsylvania should be aware that their “social media presence” could end up becoming relevant throughout their case, especially if they are seeking custody of their minor children. While many social media profiles are harmless, parents involved in a family law matter must be mindful of what they are posting, including status updates, tweets, photos, and messages, and act under the assumption that everything they post will be brought into court. Better to be safe than sorry!