Should Parents Be Barred from Posting About Their Family Case Online?
In a prior blog, we recounted an unusual case of a 14-year old girl, estranged from her biological father, who had written to the father’s parents asking them for tuition so she could go to private school. The matter eventually went to court, and although the case has many interesting aspects, one of the lesser ones is actually the most far-reaching.
The court heard evidence that in her writings and posts online, the 14-year-old girl had referred to the litigation. In reflecting on the potential repercussions, the court considered the likely emotional harm to the father’s other children (who were not aware of the litigation or even of the existence of their step-sister) were they to find out about the proceedings inadvertently. Although the court did not specifically order the girl to stop posting, it did order that part of the court file should be sealed and that the parties be referred to by their initials in the proceedings and in the documents filed in the public record.
A similar issue arose in an earlier case called C.M.G. v. R.G., where the court file was ordered to be sealed, in view of the possibility that the children of the marriage might suffer emotional harm as a result of the lawsuit, especially if other children learned about the facts of the case. The court described (and acknowledged) the mother’s concerns in this regard:
[The mother] fears that the children’s peers may learn about this proceeding and that they may be subjected to embarrassing and potentially damaging situations as a result. She submits that the nature of the pleadings themselves may result in the children being bullied. She believes this is more likely in an age where information travels very quickly through social media sites and on the internet, particularly among young people. [The mother] believes the children are especially vulnerable to bullying on Facebook. She submits that this is particularly troubling given a recent study by the Canadian Medical Association which she tendered as an exhibit that found that suicide is on the rise among young girls and is currently the second leading cause of death among young Canadians. The [mother] is concerned that the potential publicity generated by this case would be harmful to the children given their heightened vulnerability.
The court acceded to the mother’s request, finding that “protecting the children in such circumstances is a social value of superordinate importance.”
Although neither of these cases involves the court specifically preventing the parties from posting online, they raise a good question: In this modern era of instant information, should Family court cases be sealed to protect children?
And should the parties be banned outright from posting information online?
What are your thoughts?
For the full text of the decisions, see: