Divorce & Free Speech

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Wednesday, June 17, 2015.

The colorfully named “The Pyscho Ex-Wife,” was a website launched by a divorcee to air his frustrations about his divorce. It turned into a battle over free speech. Can you publicly bash a parent, or does the best interests of the child beat free speech?

The Psycho Ex-Wife was a popular site:

“We have been through 3 custody evaluations, 6 false contempt petitions, 3 custody schedules, 1 psych evaluation, 1 false child abuse allegation, 2 false calls to the local sheriff’s office, 4 years of parental alienation, $80,000, 1 break in, 1 case of stalking, 1 restraining order, and we FINALLY have 50/50 custody of their children”

The blog quickly grew into a huge community, with a recommended reading list in which registered members discussed everything from mental health to legal issues.

The Wife complained to Pennsylvania, Judge Diane E. Gibbons judge, who ordered him to shut The Psycho Ex-Wife down.

“Father shall take down that website and shall never on any public media make any reference to mother at all, nor any reference to the relationship between mother and children, nor shall he make any reference to his children other than ‘happy birthday’ or other significant school events.”

“I don’t care if you guys fight in private,” Gibbons said in her ruling. “I don’t care what you do in private. But you are not going to do it in front of these kids.”

I’ve written about free speech and family law before. According to UCLA law school professor and First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh:

“The court order categorically orders the removal of a Web site, and prohibits all public statements – factually accurate or not – by one person about another person,” he wrote. “That strikes me as a pretty clear First Amendment violation; whatever the scope of family courts’ authority to protect children’s best interests might be, it can’t extend to criminalizing one adult’s public speech about another adult.”

In Florida, as under the U.S. Constitution, offensive speech is protected as long as it isn’t obscene, defamatory, or threatening to national security. Speech restrictions are ordinarily unconstitutional.

However, if the speech restrictions in family court are narrowly focused on preventing one parent from undermining the child’s relationship with the other parent, they may pass constitutional muster.

Professor Volokh’s exhaustive article published in the NYU Law Review is available here.