Amongst the dozens of defamation enquiries the lawyers at Atkinson Vinden receive each month, a surprising number relate to issues amongst close friends and even family. Arguments at BBQ’s, embarrassing comments posted on Facebook, gossip amongst social groups, have all led to calls to our team, wanting to know whether a friend or relative can be sued for what they have said.
The judges who hear cases in this area have complained on many occasions that defamation proceedings are not an appropriate forum within which to sort out relationship breakdown. The litigation process is gruelling and expensive, and not well-suited to situations where, ideally, the parties will need to make peace with each other for the sake of the family or group of friends.
One area of particular interest in our practice, however, is situations where ex-spouses engage in defamatory behaviour. Whilst it might not be appropriate to take such a matter to court in the context of defamation proceedings, it may absolutely be relevant in family court proceedings. This is because judges will be interested in considering the conduct of each of the parties, especially in the context of parenting matters.
A parent who has demonstrably set out to undermine the reputation of the other parent, thinking this will assist with their own prospects of securing child custody, may be in for a surprise. Family Court judges have almost unfettered powers to intervene in parenting situations, and where one parent is seen to be setting out to alienate children from the other parent, this may damage that parent’s efforts to secure custody or the level or type of access that they are seeking.
It is not uncommon for our family lawyers and defamation lawyers to put their heads together to come up with the most strategic advice that secures the best possible outcome for the parent concerned.