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Don’t Open the Flood Gates to Defamation

By 24 May 2021Family Law

Some celebrity couples decide to “consciously uncouple”. Others release a joint fluffy press statement professing their enduring respect for each other and their commitment to “remain friends” for the “benefit of their children”.

The most recent in a long line of celebrity, high wealth divorces is that of the Gates’.  Once the world recovered from the shock announcement that Bill and Melinda were splitting and the salacious spectacle of what this looks like with no pre-nup, the media focus turned to the agenda being driven by Melinda – Bill’s questionable behaviour, the lack of love he provided Melinda, and a whole string of other statements, assertions and negative comments Melinda’s made against Bill.

Melinda and her team’s strategy is not revolutionary nor particularly sophisticated.  Many people going through a separation simply cannot contain their resentment, ill-feelings or otherwise about the other person.  With the social media platforms available to us all, it has become far too easy to make sure that your version of the narrative is the first one people hear, people know about, and it is often a race to get to people first.

As family lawyers we see these strategies and tactics all the time. It’s imperative however that people don’t take this approach. Not only could your former spouse sue you for defamation, what people don’t realise is that those messages and that denigration of the other spouse or parent will undoubtedly feed through to children of the parties who are dealing with the break up themselves. This doesn’t just apply to young children but adults also. It’s important that as parents and spouses, you attempt to separate amicably and negotiate fairly without falling vain to the too easy slander and negative comments both to family, friends and, more broadly, social media.

Separating people, in my view, don’t always appreciate the real impact and ramifications that such approach can take. If a party was to slander their ex to their employer, do they jeopardise their former spouse’s employment? This could have significant ramifications as part of a party’s property settlement or spousal maintenance negotiations, which could end up being adverse to the person who made the comments, as opposed to the person they were trying to hurt.

For some people, litigation is inevitable. But pre-empting or testing fate by perhaps provoking litigation through negative comments being made broadly about your former spouse is something everyone would do well to avoid.