Technology & Family Law: Social Media, Texts, E-Divorces, and Virtual Mediation in Australia

Technology has dramatically changed how most of us live in the last twenty years, and its impact on various aspects of our lives, including family law, cannot be overstated. This blog explores the intersection of technology and family law in Australia, focusing on critical areas such as surveillance devices, text messages and their relevance in court, Section 121 of the Family Law Act, the implications of social media, and the emergence of e-divorces with the filing for e-divorce.

How has technology made family law processes easier?

Technology has recently created new avenues to simplify standard family law procedures in recent years. We’ll look at a few ways this has happened.

E-Divorce and Filing for Divorce Online

With the introduction of ‘e-divorce’ in Australia, couples can now apply for divorce online, streamlining the process and making it more accessible. This digital platform allows couples to initiate divorce proceedings without physically attending court.

Filing for e-divorce involves submitting the necessary documents electronically, making the process more efficient and cost-effective. Most divorce hearings are conducted online and in some cases parties do not even need to attend the hearing. Traditional court proceedings may be necessary for property division or parenting disputes.

Virtual Mediation & Remote Conferences 

The widespread use of video meetings, such as Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams, has allowed many couples and families experiencing breakdowns to attend mediation or legal conferences online rather than in person.

This can create a feeling of safety for some and avoid the pressure of face-to-face meetings if there is tension or a high level of conflict. It’s also handy for couples who travel often or live in different places or remote areas. Shuttle mediation and mediation in separate rooms have been possible for some time, but technology has offered an additional resource for family law matters.

Family Law Disputes & Domestic or Family Violence

In previous times, even when people had experienced domestic or family violence, they were still at times required to attend appointments or meetings in the same physical location. The availability of video conferencing has ensured that most matters can now be resolved without requiring both parties to be at the same physical location.

Things To Be Aware Of When Using Technology With Family Law Proceedings, Divorce and Parenting Disputes

Often, new technology takes some time to be legislated, leaving grey areas in the interim. Online bullying and harassment occurred frequently when mobile phones and computer use became widespread, and it took some years before Federal and State legislation was able to ‘catch up’ and address these areas in legal terms. We’ll take a look at a few areas in which it’s important to be mindful of when it comes to technology and family law.

Text Messages and Court

Text messages have become a common form of communication today. In family law cases, text messages can carry significant weight as evidence. Courts may consider text messages to demonstrate communication patterns, establish facts, or even prove the existence of specific agreements or disagreements.

However, it is essential to note that the admissibility of text messages in court is subject to certain rules and regulations. Authenticity and the accuracy of the messages may be challenged, and the context in which the messages were sent can be crucial. Individuals involved in family law disputes should be cautious about their digital communication and seek legal advice on how to use text messages as evidence appropriately. 

Emails are generally easier to use regarding family court admissions, but text messages can sometimes be used. Emails are also easier to print, whereas text messages may need to be downloaded to a third-party app or program to print or share in bulk.

Section 121 of the Family Law Act

Section 121 of the Family Law Act plays a pivotal role in safeguarding the privacy of individuals involved in family law proceedings. This section prohibits the publication or dissemination of information that may identify parties, witnesses, or anyone else involved in a family law case. This includes information shared on social media platforms, in print, or through any other means.

Violating Section 121 can result in severe consequences, including contempt of court charges. Therefore, individuals going through family law matters must be mindful of the information they share online and the potential implications of violating the privacy protections outlined in Section 121 of the Family Law Act.

Social Media and the Law

Social media platforms have become integral to the daily lives of many, but their impact in family law cases cannot be underestimated. Information shared on social media can be used as evidence in court, affecting issues such as child custody, financial matters, and more.

It is crucial for individuals involved in family law proceedings to exercise caution when using social media. Posting inappropriate or incriminating content can have significant consequences. Privacy settings should be regularly reviewed and adjusted, and individuals should refrain from discussing their case or making negative comments about their ex-partner online.

Surveillance Devices Act and Listening Devices

The use of surveillance devices, including listening devices, in family law cases has become increasingly prevalent. In Australia, the Surveillance Devices Act regulates the use of such devices. It is crucial for individuals going through family law proceedings to be aware of the legal implications of using these technologies. A ‘listening device’ can be a mobile phone, PC, laptop or mobile tablet that is left on to record a conversation (audio or video), used to broadcast private conversations or share personal information that all parties do not agree to.

Under the Surveillance Devices Act, recording private conversations without all parties’ consent is generally prohibited. The use of listening devices to obtain information covertly may lead to the exclusion of such evidence in court. Individuals must consult with their legal counsel to ensure compliance with the law and avoid potential consequences for using surveillance devices during family law matters.

Children’s Devices With GPS & Location Tracking 

While it’s common for parents to use GPS and location tracking on their children’s phones and tablets, some parents have raised concerns about how this is used in some instances of shared parenting. This can be a problematic factor if shared care has been granted despite family violence or coercive control, in that one parent can use technology devices of their children to track not only their children but the whereabouts of the other parent.

In healthy co-parenting situations, this is generally not an issue, but in matters of unaddressed control or violence issues, it has the potential to be used in the wrong way. 

This is another of many issues that will no doubt in time be legislated, but at this time, is not fully legislated in Australia. 

Is it Admissible In Court? It Depends.

Technology can be used in family court proceedings but can also be inadmissible. This will be guided by laws in place or at the judge’s discretion. Each state has a different set of laws when it comes to recording devices, and some family law matters accept texts as evidence, others rule them out – it depends on several factors, which an experienced family lawyer can guide you on. 

Technology has undeniably transformed the landscape of family law in Australia. From the use of surveillance devices and the admissibility of text messages to the protection of privacy under Section 121 of the Family Law Act and the advent of e-divorces, staying informed about the intersection of technology and family law is crucial. As the digital landscape evolves, individuals navigating family law matters should seek professional guidance to navigate these areas ethically and legally.

This is general information only. Please contact us for expert legal advice that considers your unique personal situation before making any decisions based on this article.

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Judy Stewart

Judy Stewart

Accredited Family Law Specialist