New Risks to Family Cohesiveness: Damage to the Family Reputation or Family Brand

In the area of family cohesiveness, reputation or the family brand is at risk. Traditionally this risk was triggered by a scandal that leaked out to the press. The new way this risk is triggered is through social media.

To date, Facebook has approximately 500 million users and on any given day 50% of those users are online. Many of our children and grandchildren are spending an increasing amount of time living, working and playing online- sometimes with the wrong people.

One click of the button, one Facebook page or one YouTube vignette can go viral instantly and affect the family’s reputation and brand. It can be used in divorce actions, custody matters and employment decisions. Once viral, it is hard to eradicate. Social media is discoverable in litigation. Social networking sites are an investigative tool that gives the lawyers information that will lead to the evidence they need to present in a trial. Information gathered from social network can be used to attack credibility, discover relevant character evidence, dispute damages, determine or rebut state of mind and identify witnesses.

Facebook has been used to show the teenage driver who killed her best friend in a car accident was a party girl who drank heavily. Posts and pictures of her in many party situations abounded.

In divorce and child custody cases investigators look to confessions-things that people have done, places they have been and people they have had their children around.  People post revealing pictures and video on the Internet they would never share in the day to day world.

As an example there is a Facebook group entitled, “I hate my Ex???”. The group was created for “everyone who hates their ex-boyfriends or girlfriends or ex-husband or ex-wife.” Actual posts on that Facebook page include the following:

“I hate my ex husband wish he wasn’t the father of my kid so he could be out of my life for good!!!”

“My daughter hates my ex, her father, and the courts say she has to visit him. He gets her all this week for vacation.”

“My ex should die a slow painful death for what he put us through.”

“I hope my ex gets herpes.”

In Georgia, the Court of Appeals reviewed posts such as those (High v. High, 389 S.E.2d 690 (2010)) and admitted into evidence posts on the issue of the father’s suitability to have custody of the minor children.  The court commented that it was disturbed by the statements contained in the father’s MySpace page where he wrote “I’m actually a little sorry for [mother] just because losing her job affects my children. Well, maybe not. Now I’m financially more than able to support [the kids] if [mother] gets out of the way or is pushed out.” Relying on these posts the Court observed the father’s hostility, animosity and anger towards the mother and awarded the mother sole custody.

In Ohio, The Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision to consider text and picture posts on a mother’s MySpace page (Williams v. Gonzales, 2010 WL 3365741). The maternal grandmother filed a third party motion to modify custody of the mother’s children. The grandmother put forth evidence that the mother maintained a MySpace page under the name “Sexy Nurse Williams”. The mother posted pictures of her children which one expert called an “oral aura” in a slideshow with two sexually explicit graphics. The grandmother’s expert on social media and expert on risks to children regarding sexual matters, testified the pictures were displayed in a “sexualized manner” and created a “pedophile’s dream.” When these facts were taken into consideration the trial court found that a change of circumstances had occurred and modified the custody order.

In Indiana the Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision to consider the MySpace posts of one mother who mocked her children and their allegations that the mother’s boyfriend has been physically abusive to them. (In the matter of the Paternity of P.R. and A.R. 2010 WL 538476). The father petitioned the court to modify custody and support. The court, after reviewing the mother’s MySpace page and the allegations she made that mocked her own children for statements they made about her boyfriend who had one felony conviction for battery on a minor under the age of fourteen, awarded sole custody to the father.

With sites such as Facebook and MySpace the user can instantly download pictures and videos. People now have the ability to do that with themselves and even scarier, others have the ability to post that information about you and put them on their profiles without your knowledge.

As an example, the Ohio Court of Appeals in In re N.F. (2009 WL 1798146) the mother’s boyfriend (an exotic dancer) posted pornographic pictures on the mother’s MySpace page. These pictures were easily accessible. The court took custody away from the mother, ruling that even though she had demonstrated the ability to care for her children, work two jobs, provide financial support and strive for her GED degree, her home and personal life was chaotic and problematic.

In Michigan, Copeland v. Mitchell (August 5, 2010 Docket No. 290381) the Court of Appeals awarded the father full custody after considering pictures of the children posted to the mother’s MySpace page showing the girls without blouses.  The Court also ordered the mother to immediately remove the pictures.

The younger generation, if not educated, is not mature enough to understand the afterlife omnipresent power of the digital era. A strong family risk management policy should include education about the dangers of social media and a morally binding decision among family members to understand the consequence of social media on the reputation of the entire family.

How are you protecting yourself and your family wealth when considering these new risks?  Share your thoughts and comments below.

 

Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning.  She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about.  Annino recently announced the release of an updated version of her successful book, Women and Money: A Practical Guide to Estate Planning to include recent changes in the laws that govern how we protect our assets during and beyond our lifetime.  Annino’s book is an exhortation, resource and trusted companion for women in all facets of life.  To purchase the book visit:  http://amzn.to/hOHuEV or for more about Annino, visit: www.patriciaannino.com.

Comments

  1. Children have long paid the highest price for adults’ failure to appreciate the learning curve involved with social skills – or the benefits of proactive instruction from third party educators. Modern societies – where children often also lack previously present wisdom and advice from multiple adult family members concerned with their welfare – leave children uniquely vulnerable. Contributions like these from caring individuals such as yourself and others Patricia fill a much needed void. Much appreciate your focus – and you also for sharing with fellow Life Skills educators at Parenting 2.0 Bill Dwight. Honored to share forward. Hugs!

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