Recently on our divorce forum a user asked, “My soon to be ex is posting negative posts about me on her Facebook page. The comments have gotten nasty, alienating me from family and friends. I am getting worried that what she is saying may start to affect me professionally. Can I take any legal steps to get her to stop her defamatory actions?”
Before the proliferation of social media sites and the birth of the internet, mean and nasty comments could be spread to a few people at a time or perhaps written in a limited number of mediums. Now, angry spouses can exchange insults, demeaning comments, and disparaging remarks to potentially hundreds of people in a matter of minutes.
If these statements are simply embarrassing that would be one thing, but often information can be so damaging that it can lead to a loss of reputation and ultimately a loss of employment opportunities.
What type of defamatory statements were made?
You mentioned that your soon to be ex was making false statements online. False statements or defamation are classified as slander if they are made orally or libel if they are made in writing. Not all negative statements, however, no matter how damaging, are considered defamatory. In fact, for a statement to be considered defamatory it generally must meet the following requirements:
- The statements are false
- The statements are published to a third party
- The statements are not privileged
- The statements are made with an understanding of the defamatory meaning
- The statements cause harm to the plaintiff from their publication
More specifically, you will not only have to prove that the statements were false, but in many states such as Pennsylvania, you will also have to prove that the statement “tends to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third parties from associating or dealing with him.” Birl v. Philadelphia Elec. Co., 167 A.2d 472, 475 (Pa. 1960).
As you can see, the statements must move past causing you embarrassment to proving that your standing has been “grievously fractured” in respectable society.
Filing a personal injury claim for defamatory statements
Given the above information and the difficulty of winning a personal injury claim, before taking any action against your ex you need to consider all of your options.
Also consider that if you are in the middle of divorce and you have also engaged in unkind behaviors you can expect for everything you have done and said to also get dredged up in court.
Additionally, depending on the statements made, your spouse may have several defenses. For example, the statements she made could be true or she was merely offering an opinion which she believes is protected under the notion of “free speech.”
Another consideration is how any type of suit will impact the divorce process. If she truly is making unkind and damaging remarks about you on social media your divorce lawyer can subpoena these communications and present them in court. Any damaging and false statements she makes can also be used against her when determining issues as serious as custodial arrangements for your children.
Talk to your divorce lawyer to determine the best course of action to stop defamatory statements against you.
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