Category Archives: Family Law

Responsible Parenting in the Age of Social Media: In the Matter of Melody M. v. Robert M., Family Court of St. Lawrence County

There is a growing controversy about whether, when, and to what extent parents should post information about their children on social media sites. The controversy centers around concerns that children, who cannot yet consent to having this information shared within the social media universe, are suffering an irreparable invasion of their privacy from infancy and, in many cases, even in utero.

We all know those parents. Some of us are those parents. It’s so easy, especially with our first children, to get carried away with each new milestone, and to want to share our joy with our friends and family. Does it invade our children’s privacy? Maybe. But it’s mostly innocent fun, and the easiest way to share our children’s firsts with people who love them but don’t get to see them every day. There are ways to safeguard our children’s privacy and safety even while disseminating information about them on social media. In other words, sharing photos of your baby’s first steps, first birthday, and first day of kindergarten with your Facebook friends, with proper privacy limits in place, is likely evidence that you are a proud, loving, responsible parent, and not evidence of poor judgment.

On the other hand, parents do need to realize that people are watching. Your closest friends and family are surely watching, but so are more distant friends, friends of friends, and some people who are in such a distant friend-type orbit that you know little more about them than their names, and that you maybe met them years ago at a party, or played on a little league team with them 20 or so years ago. Common sense would dictate that pictures of our children should only be visible to those we actually know, and that pictures of a very personal nature should be visible only to very close friends and family, if at all.

Besides issues of our children’s privacy, which can be a very confusing grey area at times, it appears that some parents need to be reminded not to insult and demean their children using social media, lest it be used as evidence against them in a custody determination. Once upon a time, furnishing evidence of verbal or emotional abuse in a custody proceeding was fairly difficult. Children, especially very young ones, are not always great witnesses, and are very susceptible to suggestion from one or both parents, other family members, school professionals, social workers, attorneys, and the court itself. There are myriad evidentiary issues with testifying to what someone else may have said to a child. If you want to maintain custody of your children in the age of social media, however, it is best not to disparage them to your Facebook friends. It is definitely best, when the judge asks you why you referred to one of your children as an “a–hole” on Facebook, not to respond, “Because he is.”

All of us who use social media have a permanent electronic fingerprint. Some of us, after a bad day, like to vent. Most of us, if we insulted our children to the extent of the mother in Melody M. v. Robert M., a recent New York family court case, would make some attempt to delete the entry, apologize publicly, or at the very least show some remorse. Melody M. did none of those things, and her lack of “insight” and remorse, among other things, led to a loss of custody and an order restraining her from mentioning her children on Facebook.


Leave a comment

Filed under Family Law

Lopez v. Reyes: A Shifting View of the Definition of Family in NYC Housing Court

New York, as a political entity, has long held more traditional views on what constitutes a “family” than, perhaps, the majority of individual New Yorkers have.  New York only recently adopted “no-fault divorce,” preferring for decades that couples who wished to divorce jump through hoops to fit their marital discord into one of several restrictive boxes, such as adultery or abuse.

The tide, however, is starting to turn, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the Housing Court.  In a still somewhat surprising move, in the case Lopez v. Reyes, Bronx Housing Court Judge Brenda Spears dismissed a building superintendent’s petition to evict his longterm live-in girlfriend from his apartment on the basis that they were not married, and did not have any children together.  According to Judge Spears’s decision, which cited the earlier decision Braschi v. Stahl, “a narrow definition of of ‘family,’ relating only to the nuclear family with children is inapplicable to modern society.”  New York law has long recognized that marriage is, first and foremost, an “economic partnership,” and Judge Spears recognized that the couple had lived together, in a marital-like economic partnership, for more than 25 years.  Accordingly, Judge Spears ruled that only the Family Court or Supreme Court had jurisdiction to determine issues surrounding the dissolution of their marital-type relationship.

It will be interesting to see where this leads.  The narrow definition of family has always played a large role in succession rights for the city’s coveted rent-control apartments.  Could this judicial trend lead to a relaxing of the restrictions for rent-control apartments?  My prediction:  not without a huge fight.

Leave a comment

Filed under Family Law, Landlord/Tenant Law