In a recent family law case of Fitzgerald v. Duff (A-0177-12T4), the Appellate Division reversed a Trial Court decision to impute $100,000 to the father of the child for failure to make the requisite findings of fact and conclusions of law and make credibility findings to include a Plenary Hearing, if necessary.
In defending against a motion to reduce child support in light of a 2011 tax return showing that the payor’s income was $21,000 that year, the Plaintiff did her research. She provided printed copies of a website describing the Defendant as the owner of "Mr. Tatoo" which operated two New Jersey locations in addition to a Wilmington, Delaware, shop and advertised that a "Philly Shop [was] coming soon." The Plaintiff also attached photographs taken from Defendant’s facebook page of Defendant’s brand new boat and a 2011 Chevy Camaro. In addition, she alleged that the Defendant also had a Lincoln Navigator.
To further illustrate her point, the Plaintiff also attached pictures of his elaborate, tropical wedding, diamond engagement and wedding bands, and pictures of Defendant throwing $100 bills. Perhaps most damaging, the Plaintiff also supplied a copy of the Plaintiff’s MySpace page, which stated that the Defendant earned over $250,000 per year from a business of which he is the sole owner.
The Trial Court was persuaded by the Plaintiff’s evidence, and imputed an income of $100,000 to the Defendant, and calculated child support on that income instead of the $21,000 the Defendant claimed he earned.
Although the Trial Court was ultimately reversed for failure to make the requisite fact-finding and credibility determinations, this case illustrates the important lesson that any pictures and/or statements made on the internet, via social media or otherwise, are commonly used in litigation to discredit a party or witness. Therefore, if you are currently involved in any court proceeding or anticipate that you may become involved in litigation in the very near future, please be very careful about what you post online and on social medial sites. If you are unsure whether something may be damaging, it is advisable to err on the side of caution and refrain from posting the questionable material, or consult an attorney.