How much is a picture worth?
For a father in Wisconsin facing felony charges for failure to pay child support, a series of photographs on his Facebook page could end up costing him tens thousands of dollars – possibly even his freedom.
As of the close of 2011, some $23 million had been collected that year by the state's Department of Human Services for child support just in Mobile alone (where there are over 20,000 cases). However, the majority of children there weren't receiving the full payments the court had ordered their parent to pay.
According to 2009 U.S. Census data, just 41 percent of parents receive the full amount of child support owed.
So there is no question that custodial parents, as well as attorneys and court officials are seeking all potential avenues to help collect. Increasingly, Facebook and other social media platforms are being tapped either as a way to help locate the individual or as evidence that the person may have access to more money than what he or she is letting on to the court.
Surprisingly, many people still assume that what they post to their personal Facebook profile is private. This despite the fact that they may have hundreds of friends and that their content may be easily viewable by friends of friends as well.
As a general rule, we advise clients never to post anything to your social media page that you wouldn't want to be seen or read out loud in an open courtroom or splashed across the front page of a newspaper. The fact is, these days, everything has that potential.
The man at the center of this Wisconsin case didn't do that. Although he is tens of thousands of dollars behind on support payments for his young daughter, photographs displayed prominently on his Facebook page show him posing with wads of hundred dollar bills. Captions seem to indicate that the father is supremely wealthy.
But facing court, the father contends that "it could be anybody's cash, just to play around or something."
Other photos appear to show him posing in front of Buckingham Palace in London. The father contends the photographs were photoshopped with a phone application. He said there is no way he could afford a European vacation, as he doesn't even have a full-time job.
He could very well be telling the truth, though it remains to be seen whether the judge will buy it. Regardless, it doesn't look good and it's certainly not likely to win him any favor or breaks with the judge.
Custodial parents who are battling the non-paying parent might be wise to at least check out their former partner's social media pages, just to see whether there is anything that might help their case. However, refrain from making any comments either on the page or to others about what you find. You don't want to risk it being removed before it can be properly documented and presented to your attorney.
Alabama Code Article 9 is the Alabama Child Support Reform Act of 1997. Information contained there spells out provisions for wage garnishment, liens, driver's license revocations and other penalties for failure to pay child support.
If you are struggling with a child support issue in Birmingham, contact Birmingham Family Law Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.
Facebook page at center of child-support case, Dec. 10, 2012, Staff Report, WISN, Milwaukee