What Not to Do After a Divorce: Posting Lewd Rants on Facebook about Your Ex-Husband’s New Wife Is a Crime
After a divorce, it may be tempting to vent your frustrations on Facebook if your lifelong friend marries your ex-spouse and, in your eyes, is “obsessed with playing mommy” to your kids. We’re here to tell you to step away from the keyboard before you land in legal trouble.
‘Vulgar and Inflammatory’ Rants
In Commonwealth v. D’Adderio, an ex-wife’s legal problems began when she posted a series of derogatory rants about her ex-husband’s new wife on Facebook. The new wife, who did not have a Facebook account, contacted the police after her stepchildren showed her the posts. A detective contacted the angry ex-wife and suggested that she remove the messages.
Undeterred by law enforcement, the ex-wife subsequently engaged in a weekend spree of posting increasingly offensive comments using language that prosecutors described as “vulgar and inflammatory.” Some of the posts questioned the paternity of the new wife’s 9-year-old daughter and suggested that the new wife was carrying on an inappropriate relationship with the detective who was investigating the matter.
The ex-wife was charged and later convicted of one count of harassment. She was sentenced to 12 months of probation, 100 hours of community service, plus fines and court costs. The trial court ordered her not to have any contact with the child referenced in her Facebook posts until the child reaches age 18.
The ex-wife appealed, arguing, among other things, that the Facebook posts were protected speech under the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions. She also argued that since the new wife did not have a Facebook account, the posts were not harassment because they were “about” the new wife, rather than “to” her.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania was not swayed by either argument and affirmed the sentence handed down by the trial court.
With respect to the constitutional argument, the Superior Court reasoned that the ex-wife’s Facebook posts were not protected speech because they “did not express social or political beliefs or constitute legitimate conduct.” Instead, the court found them to be “lewd comments, including sexualized language and references to the complainant’s sexual activity, which could only serve to harass, annoy or alarm the complainant.”
Turning to the issue of whether lascivious speech “about” the new wife rather than “to” her is constitutionally protected, the court found that it made no difference. The court noted that there was no case law supporting the ex-wife’s position.
Divorces, by their nature, are emotionally grueling, and sometimes the parties do things that in hindsight were not well thought-out. If you are thinking about posting derogatory comments on social media about your ex’s new spouse, your ex, their children, or other members of their new family unit, we urge you to step away from the keyboard pronto.