Social Networking and Your Lawsuit: A Risky Combustible Combination!

When was the last time you checked your favorite social networking site to see if you received a new message or to catch up on a current friend’s information ten minutes ago? With 85% of all adults using the internet and 48% using social networking sites on a daily basis, you are definitely in the majority of Americans. (Pew Research Study/Aug.2012). Consider further that of the 88% of adults using cell phones daily, 55% of those adults are using their phones to go online and update social networking sites (Pew research Survey/April 2012).

People now make available for easy disclosure practically their entire life details and confessions online. Social networking technologies are forcing us to learn to navigate the murky waters between business and pleasure. This mixture creates a “Permanent Record” of each on social networking sites.

Now that you are in a legal dispute, how may this universal sharing of personal and business information affect you legally? A scary thought? YOU BET! With so much valuable and often sensitive information now available through these social sites, the discovered information could field devastating results in many court cases.

What we strongly warn our clients:

1. Almost everything you post on social networking sites can and likely will be used against you in a lawsuit.

2. Avoid making any comments concerning your lawsuit or the judicial system on any internet or social networking sites.

3. Do not make comments about your adversary. Even “positive” comments can be misconstrued or used out of context; it is a smart idea to stop all your activity on social networking sites until after your lawsuit is over or the dispute is resolved!

4. Provide your attorney a list of all social networking sites you are a member of along with their passwords.

5. Do not intentionally remove or delete any posts, photos, or videos from a social networking site that existed when your lawsuit was filed or if you are anticipating a lawsuit. Keep everything as it is! Obstruction or spoliation maybe highly damaging to your case by implication even for innocent deletions.

6. If you have communicated with your opponent or a potential witness, provide this social networking information to your attorney at once. It can be used in your lawsuit!

7. Remember pictures communicate without words. Do not share photographs that are incriminating, inappropriate, or what may be taken out of context.

In summary, evidence from all social media sites is now being used by prosecutors, defense attorneys, personal injury attorneys, civil dispute attorneys, employment attorneys and foremost by family attorneys! Be careful what you say, post or disclose whenever you are communicating on any type of social media site! What you say or show may be your civil undoing!

Modification of Child Custody or Visitation Rights for Texas Fathers

Texas family law states that a court may modify a child custody order if the change is in the best interest of the child and one of the following applies:

1. The circumstances of the child or parent have materially or substantially changed since the date of the original child custody order or order to be modified.
2. The child is at least 12 years of age and will tell the court in private chambers with the judge that he/she would like a change.
3. The custodial parent has voluntarily given the child’s care and custody to another person for at least 6 months.

Material or Substantial Change
What could be acceptable as a change for the Texas family courts? Some examples could be a parent’s remarriage, a medical condition the affects a parent’s ability take care of the child, a parent’s criminal acts or convictions, a parent’s change in residence that makes visitation a hardship for the other parent, family violence, drug or alcohol related issues, absence of supervision, and other material changes concerning adequate care and supervision of the child.

Child Wants Change
The child must be at least 12years of age and maybe interviewed in the judge’s chambers. The court will consider the child’s desire but only make a change if it is in the child’s best interest.

Custody Relinquishment
This happens when the custodial parent has voluntarily given up custody of the child to another person for at least six months. This does not apply to a period of military deployment or duty.

After finding one of the three prerequisites, the court must still consider whether the change will be in the child’s best interest. The court will consider factors affecting the child’s physical, emotional, mental, education, social, moral or disciplinary welfare and development. The factors considered for this evaluation are:

1. Child’s emotional and physical needs.
2. Parenting ability of the conservators or potential conservators
3. Plans and outside resources available to persons seeking the modification
4. Value to the child of having a relationship with both parents
5. Visitation schedule that requires excessive traveling or prevents the child from engaging in school or social activities
6. Stability of the person’s home seeking the modification
7. The child’s desires
8. Child’s need for stability and need to limit additional litigation in child custody cases.

Modification within one year of prior court order
A parent who files a motion to modify a child custody order within one year after a prior order was entered must also submit an affidavit to the court. The affidavit must contain, along with supporting facts, at least one of the following allegations:

1. The child’s present environment may be endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development.
2. The person who has the exclusive right to designate the child’s primacy residence is the person seeking or consenting to the modification and the modification is in the child’s best interest.
3. The person who has the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence has voluntarily relinquished the primacy care and possession of the child for at least six months and the modification is in the child’

Unique Possession Orders that Work with a Fathers Profession

Many professions create impositions on conservators making a standard possession order inapplicable and unworkable. The Court may deviate from a standard possession order if the order is inappropriate or unworkable in reference to the schedules of both the conservators and the child. Unique professions and irregular school schedules for children allow the Court to have flexibility to deviate from a standard possession order that is in the Best Interest of the Child. There are multiple ways in which the Court may depart from a standard possession order to fulfill the needs of all parties involved with the custody of the child.

First, the Family Code § 153.254 states that the Court will be allowed deference to modify the standard possession order if work schedules of either conservators or the school schedule of the child is irregular. The Court must attempt to narrowly tailor the modifications to keep the new possession order as similar to the standard possession order as possible. This instance most commonly occurs when the Managing Conservator and the Possessory Conservator cannot reach an agreement and one of the two Conservators has a unique profession such as a firefighter, police officer, or airline pilot. The working hours of these jobs allow the Court to modify the standard possession order even if both of the parties do not comply with the changes. The modifications must be made only if it is in the Best Interest of the Child.

Secondly, the standard possession order may always be modified if it is by the mutual agreement of both the Managing Conservator and Possessory Conservator. Family Code § 153.007 is the Agreed Parenting Plan Statute and allows for both parties to agree on a standard possession order for the child. This statute was passed to promote amicability in settlement for child custody issues and to give flexibility to the parents if they are willing to agree on custody terms. The Agreed Parenting Plan must be in the Best Interest of the Child for the Court to approve. If the Court grants the Agreed Parenting Plan then the Managing or Possessory Conservator will have a remedy as a matter of law for any violation of the agreement committed by either party.

Finally, both Conservators may enter into a Mediated Settlement Agreement under Family Code § 153.0071. A Mediated Settlement Agreement is the only time in which the Court will NOT look at the Best Interest of the Child when granting the custody agreement.

The Mediated Settlement Agreement § 153.0071 must be:

  • In bold, underlined, and capital letters that the agreement is NOT REVOCABLE
  • Signed by Both Parties to the agreement
  • Signed by the lawyers (if represented) of each party

The Mediated Settlement Agreement is binding and not revocable so if the Conservators wish to go this route they must understand that what is in the agreement will be held as binding. This method can be used to modify or change a standard possession order and the Court will not look at the Best Interest of the Child regarding the agreement, unless there exists a credible threat of domestic violence.

These are the methods in which a unique possession order may be obtained to accommodate irregular schedules or working hours of both the conservators. Any possession order must be correctly drafted and all future contingencies must be accounted for. An experienced lawyer must be contacted to safeguard an individual’s custody rights of their children and to make sure that a fair custody arrangement is obtained.