Facebook Rants Can Cost You Custody of Your Child
A New York woman lost custody of her child to her former husband after calling the child an asshole on Facebook.
An appeals court this month upheld a 2010 family court decision giving sole legal custody to the child’s father after finding that the arrangement would be in the best interest of the child.
The couple had joint custody of their three children following their 2006 separation, with the father as the primary caregiver. However, after the mother requested to alter their agreement to break up the times she had the two younger children and the older one, the father requested that she lose legal custody altogether.
The court agreed. According to the decision, the mother refused to participate in counseling for the oldest child for his mental health issues, and frequently had his father pick him up during their time together because she couldn’t handle his behavior.
“The mother admitted that she swears and yells at the oldest child, often resorting to physical means to deal with him,” the court’s opinion reads. After her Facebook outburst, she defended the decision to a judge, claiming that it was important that her friends know that was what he was. “Charitably stated, her testimony reflected a lack of insight as to the nature of her conduct toward her oldest child,” the opinion concludes.
The court considered the mother’s behavior so egregious that it imposed a protection order barring her from posting about the child on social media.
Best Interest Discretion
New York’s law on custody is relatively simple, stating (without much elaboration) that the decision should be based on “the best interest of the child.” That leaves a lot of discretion to the court to determine if a parent is a suitable guardian.
“Custody cases are unique in that in virtually every other type of case, the court is looking to the past and attempting to reconstruct disputed facts,” writes J. Douglas Barics, a family law attorney with the Law Offices of J. Douglas Barics in New York, on the firm’s website. “In a custody case, the court is attempting to look to the future and predict which parent will be the better custodial parent.”
Some of the factors the judge considers when deciding custody, according to the state court website:
- which parent has been the main care giver/nurturer of the child
- the parenting skills of each parent, their strengths and weaknesses and their ability to provide for the child’s special needs, if any
- the mental and physical health of the parents
- whether there has been domestic violence in the family
- work schedules and child care plans of each parent
- the child’s relationships with brothers, sisters, and members of the rest of the family
- what the child wants, depending on the age of the child
- each parent’s ability to cooperate with the other parent and to encourage a relationship with the other parent, when it is safe to do so
Barics notes additional factors, including parents’ observable behavior in court, which surely contributed to the mother’s downfall when she refused to apologize for insulting her son on the Internet.
“Being argumentative or expressing hostility towards the other parent will be noticed by the judge,” he writes. “Likewise, being reasonable, cooperative and respectful towards the court will help. In court behavior alone will not determine custody, but it can certainly help tip the odds one way or the other, and should not be ignored.”
Of course, hitting and insulting the child in the first place couldn’t have helped her case.
“For each custody case,” Barics writes, “the court will look at the totality of the circumstances, and not simply one factor.”