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Facebook apology order constitutionally troublesome?

On Behalf of | Mar 6, 2012 | Child Custody

Facebook rears its head again in a family law matter.

We have commented in prior blog posts about the rapidly emerging importance of Facebook and other social media sites in divorce-related matters from Florida to California. In this day and age, an online presence is something that simply must be considered — and sometimes adjusted or toned down — when a couple is at odds regarding any family law matter.

A child visitation matter from Ohio well demonstrates that point, with a state court judge’s ruling in that state being called “unique” and termed as potentially overreaching and constitutionally suspect by free-speech experts.

Photographer Mark Byron and his future ex-wife have a young son. Bryon’s wife accused him of verbally abusing and otherwise threatening her. He was exonerated on those criminal charges, but his wife obtained a civil protective order requiring him to stay away from her.

He vented on Facebook, calling her “an evil, vindictive woman” and saying she was bent on ruining his life and his relationship with his son.

She brought the matter to court, claiming that his rant violated the protective order.

Domestic Relations Magistrate Paul Meyers agreed, holding Byron in contempt. Meyers offered Byron a choice: Either do 90 days in jail or post an online Facebook apology to his wife, to run for a month.

Byron chose the latter, saying, “I didn’t think I had an option.”

Some legal scholars aren’t so sure, finding Meyers ruling problematic and even troubling from a First Amendment standpoint. Ordering a person to post or not post something “raises quite a few” free-speech issues, says one.

“He did nothing but vent,” says Byron’s lawyer. “She didn’t like what he had to say. That’s what this boils down to.”

Source: USA Today, “Ex-husband gets choice of jail or a Facebook apology,” Kimball Perry, Feb. 23, 2012