Pretty much everyone agrees that digital harassment is wrong and free expression is right. Largely because the internet is rather impersonal, digital harassment comes in many forms, such as name-calling, intentional embarrassment, stalking, and sustained harassment. But where does someone draw the line between bullying and expression, and what happens when these things conflict, especially during divorce proceedings?
The basic components necessary for stopping relationship digital harassment are in place. But the law usually does not keep up with technology. A Chicago family lawyer must take affirmative steps in this area, usually during the temporary hearing. Setting the right ground rules in the beginning helps the divorce go more smoothly for everyone, especially for children who are usually voiceless.
Even in low-conflict divorces, judges almost always issue boilerplate protective orders during temporary hearings. These orders typically prohibit the spouses from disparaging one another in public or within the presence or hearing of the children.
But these orders are so broad they are basically unenforceable. A word like “disparaging” could mean almost anything. Furthermore, since the internet has so permeated our lives, there is really no such thing as “private” in most cases. Furthermore, anything which appears on any social media account is usually within the presence or hearing of the children.
Here is where tailoring the protective order comes into play. Judges most likely will not order spouses to shut down their Facebook pages or take other such drastic action. Such responses might not stop aggressive digital harassment anyway.
However, if a spouse provides a history of tweets or other posts which are clearly offensive, a judge will probably enter specific orders which are enforceable in court.
Contrary to popular myth, a protective order is more than a piece of paper. Law enforcement officers who are hesitant to interfere in non-violent domestic disputes, such as a digital harassment complaint, often take action when a spouse has violated a judicial order.
In practical terms, this punishment might be little more than a judicial admonishment. But judges have long memories. The next time a dispute arises, the judge will most likely recall the prior transgression, and also remember that the spouse’s Chicago family law attorney could not control his/her client.
The children’s input could be vital in this process as well. As mentioned, children are largely voiceless during this process. There are several big exceptions.
The social services investigation, which is part of most contested divorces, is a good example. A social worker investigates the custody matter and makes a parenting timeshare recommendation to the judge. Before a social worker interviews a parent who has been cyber-bullied, that parent should harvest the offensive posts and present them to the social worker. In this way, the posts become part of the official record and carry significant weight.
On a related note, digital harassment is often the first step in Parental Alienation Syndrome. PAS is basically a campaign by one spouse to drive an emotional wedge between the children and the other spouse. Social workers are intimately familiar with PAS and the long-term, and often permanent, damage it causes.
Digital harassment is a persistent problem, but it does not have to poison your family. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Chicago, contact Andrea Heckman Law, Ltd. We routinely handle matters in Cook County and nearby jurisdictions.
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