WHAT IS CYBERSTALKING?
Have you ever typed an angry email or text to a former spouse because of a missed visit or missed child support/alimony payment? Or have you ever posted a picture of a spouse that cheated on you and described the spouse in derogatory terms? If so, you are not alone. We are all humans, and we tend to react irrationally when hyper-stressed or in an extreme fit of anger. But at what point do we cross the line and our communications becomes more of a threat than just letting off some steam?
I find it tragic when clients, who have never committed a crime, end up with criminal charges, spend time in jail or get a Domestic Violence Protective Order agasint them. Especially, when these charges are used to get leverage in let's say a custody case. I have seen cases where criminal charges have been used to manipulate the family law case, and I have seen cases where there are legitimate harassment claims against the other spouse.
So, when are you at risk of committing a crime? I think answering yes to these questions will be a great indicator of whether you are stepping into the danger zone.
1. Do you constantly call your spouse like 10-20 times a day, even after being told not to? If the other side won't respond to a legitimate call then take other action such as filing a lawsuit, filing contempt and so forth. Repeatedly calling the person who won't respond is not going to solve anything.
2. Do you send threatening voicemails such as "if you don't let me see my kids, you will regret the day your were born", or something to that effect? It's okay to be angry at your spouse, and it's okay to let your spouse know why you are angry, but do not threaten to assault your spouse or attempt to inflict any type of harm, emotional or physical. Even though this statement may not rise to the level of a threat, some judges tend to have a "better safe than sorry" attitude and tend to be lenient with the ex parte orders. If you have an attorney, have them file a contempt motion or some other legal action. Once the Court is involved the other spouse will have to answer to the judge. Usually the threat of going to jail or fines encourages people to comply.
3. Have you on more than one occasion posted gross, ugly pictures of your spouse; or naked pictures or pictures of intimate body parts on social media without your spouse's permission? In North Carolina that is a criminal offense under the revenge porn statute 14-190.5A.
4. Have you on more than one occasion posted derogatory statements about your spouse such as "my spouse has sex with dogs?" Okay, this one is pretty tricky because you have a 1st amendment right to voice you opinions even if they are derogatory and false, but there are some limitations. Let's analyze the statement. First, does this statement threaten to harm or extort the person? I don't think so. Second is the pupose of the post to abuse, annoy or harrass the person? I think so, but a judge will have to determine that. Is this a false statement concerning death, injury, illness, indecent or criminal conduct? If you mean a derogatory term for a women when you say "dog" it is protected under the first amendment. But if you mean a real dog, that is indecent conduct, and you will not be protected under the first amendment. Conclusion: Try to avoid statements that are not protected by your first amendment rights.
5. Do you often drive by your spouse's home or job even though its not in any path of your destination? For example, if you are going to your child's school and you have to drive past your spouse's house to get there, that's okay.
6. Have you on several occasions spread rumors about the spouse that aren't true such as "my wife gave me herpes," just to be hurtful? Once again you have 1st amendment protections even with false statements, but if you make a false statement about someone's illness you will not be protected.
7. Have you followed your ex spouse or spied on them by using a GPS tracking system and such? Unless you have a private detective who is licensed under the state and autorized to use tracking devises under NCGS 74C-3(a)(8), avoid doing this.
For the person who is being harrassed, the quicker you can stop the communication the better. Most social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have links where you can report the harassing post and hopefully have the post taken down. You can block the harassing person from your phone or email and other social media sites. Keep a thorough record of the posts such as screenshots to use as evidence in court. Get phone records from your service provider. And last but not least, file a police report, incident report, request a domestic violence protective order, or some other legal action to put a stop on the harrassement.
I hope this blog sheds some light as to how to conduct yourself during litigation.