Cyberbullying and the Drama Triangle of Divorce

Cyberbullying divorceI have already looked at The Drama Triangle from the perspective of Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb. It’s an age-old problem. Now I’m bringing it up to date, by looking at how the Drama Triangle works within the context of a serious and growing problem:  cyberbullying.

The classic situation is that of a spurned husband or wife, who is hell bent on revenge and loses self-control after being left for a new partner. This spouse turns from Victim to Persecutor and, in this new role, can become very nasty indeed. What follows is an extreme example of a spurned wife running riot on the Internet.

I am rarely re-consulted by a client after the divorce has been resolved. But one former client, who found my blog while surfing the net, got in touch and wrote: “Is there anything I can do about my ex?”

He added:

She has logged on to a website in the USA and so far, has anonymously posted nearly 500 messages online about me, my wife, and even my children from my second marriage who are named on the website. She’s made comments about some of my other relatives. She’s written untruthfully about my business and told lies about my work, all done to harm me. She’s got a couple of her friends in on the act and from some comments, they are trying to imply I am a racist. I think they are trying to stir up violence against me, and trying to give me a heart attack, destroy my wife and children –help me please, we are desperate.

The internet has a reputation for being a free-for-all, and this former spouse clearly felt that she could post with impunity. However there is a difference between honestly held opinion, which is fair comment, and a deliberate, malicious and vindictive campaign of harassment.

The ex-wife was emboldened by the belief that in the USA, freedom of speech is considered sacrosanct. However the internet is not outside the legal control of the English jurisdiction and the offensive postings were sent from the English jurisdiction. In this particular instance, once it was suggested to her that she could therefore answer ultimately to the English courts, she backed down. The malicious postings were all removed, as were the friends’ contributions.

Her former husband could have pursued the matter further, but declined to do so. What might have happened if he had, or if she had refused to back down?

The relevant law is contained within the Malicious Communications Act 1998, The Telecomunications Act 1984 , The Communications Act 2003 and most relevant sections of The Protection from Harrassment Act 1997, depending on the gravity of the case. Charges may also be brought under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, if there is racial and religious harassment involved. Punishment can range from a restraining order or substantial fines to, for the most serious offences, lengthy periods of imprisonment.

In this case, the former wife had embarked on the most vicious of cyberbullying campaigns. The husband, his second wife and children were all suffering acute psychological harm as a result and his business was being badly damaged. If action had been taken against the former wife and the matter had reached the Crown Court, what then? The Crown Court could have taken a serious view of the number of postings, the refusal to stop and above all, the deliberate naming and shaming of the children…

This is a worst case scenario, but the internet can be extremely dangerous if misused. It seems so easy sitting alone, hooked up to the computer, to post about someone you hate. But publishing an anonymous hate message online is the same as sending an anonymous and highly malicious communication through the post. I advise you to think again.

So if you are sitting with a glass of wine by your side, and the temptation to press the “send” or “post” button is almost overwhelming, pull back! The potential price – an adverse divorce settlement for litigation misconduct, or the possibility of civil/criminal proceedings – is too horrible to contemplate.

And if it’s too late and you have done it? Don’t wait for the knock on the door. My advice is to put it right as quickly as you can.

You have been warned!

This post was selected for the 27th Carnival of Wealth – Feb 27 2011 Edition, hosted by Personal Dividends and the Carnival of Money Stories #95: Bedtime Story Edition, hosted by Money Crashers.

Marilyn Stowe

The senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

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6 comments

Belinda - June 23, 2011 at 7:28pm

Your site is wonderful, so much information. Do the Acts you mention above offer any protection against a massive and sustained campaign of unwanted communication by text-message? And would a judge ever be so one-sided as to consider a log of unwanted ‘sent’ text-messages as evidence of an imaginary continuing relationship – even though hardly any received a response(and that being of a negative nature)? The respondent is creating ‘evidence’ of a non-existing relationship, and can be very convincing, whilst the receipt of these messages is distressing, harrassing and very wearing. How could it be stopped? This has gone on for months.

Marilyn Stowe - June 23, 2011 at 8:02pm

Belinda
Go straight to the police. They are increasingly aware and increasingly helpful.
Many thanks for your kind words.
Marilyn.

Lancealot - June 26, 2011 at 7:29am

We d have to be careful here, the impact of police involvement is that they will immediately issue an harassment notice without investiagting any of the issues, this in turn results in the “offender” having a warning against them ad infinitum and appears on their CRB check. A true instance of guilty without there being a proper hearing. From the blogs I read almost all solicitors “encourage” their clients to go to the police whether harassment has occurred or not, it seems issuing a harassment warning gives their client an unfair advantage in downstream discussions.

Great website, full of useful info

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