Potential Child Custody Consequences of Social Media

When parents of young children get separated or divorced the issue of child custody arises. Deciding how the children should divide their lives between the two parents is no easy process. Most states, including North Carolina, base their decisions in child custody matters on the “best interests of the child.” This standard is known as the “polar star” of child custody cases in North Carolina. Judges must determine which environment will “best encourage full development of the child’s physical, mental, emotional, moral and spiritual faculties.” In re Peal, 305 N.C. 640, 290 S.E.2d 664 (1982). Whatever relevant factors a judge uses to make a decision in a child custody case must relate to the guiding standard of the “best interests” of the child or children involved.

This sounds like an objective standard, but is this actually the case? North Carolina law actually gives relatively little guidance on what factors judges should look to. Statutorily judges must use “all relevant factors,” but it is up to the individual judge to decide which factors are important. Humans naturally make decisions based on their own experiences and beliefs, and judges are no exception. Judges will use experiences with their children and families in order to determine child custody. When judges see a parent doing something that they themselves would think is a horrible idea they will certainly consider that in their custody decision.

We are now in an age of constant information in the form of social media posts and this is all evidence that judges can and do consider. People will often post photos or quotes online involving their kids, but not all of these posts make them look like good parents in front of a judge. I have seen photos of parents letting kids ride dirt bikes without helmets or photos a parent has taken of kids in a back seat of a car while driving. The court will use all of the available evidence to make their decision, and you can bet these sorts of posts will find their way before judges. A judge would likely see these posts as showing that a parent is reckless with their kids. If together with all other evidence a judge decides that placing a child with that parent would not be in the child’s best interest then the judge would grant custody to the other parent. It is therefore best practice to not post anything online that you wouldn’t want a judge to see. Think of what careless social media posts have done to the careers of celebrities and politicians. You don’t want your relationship with your kids to have the same fate.

Your children are too important to risk by making careless posts on social media. Once a judge makes a decision on child custody a noncustodial parent will have to show a “substantial change in circumstances” in order to convince a court to change the permanent custody order. Courts don’t like revisiting the same issue multiple times, so this can be a difficult hurdle to overcome.

Child custody is also a central deciding factor in child support. The noncustodial spouse pays child support to the spouse with custody, so if a judge awards custody to your ex you will be the one paying child support. It might be fun to post something crazy you did with your kids online, but it could have serious, long-term consequences. Be sure to think before you post.