Sunday, January 13, 2013

Child taken away from mother due in part to depravity of online postings

If you're looking to nominate someone for mother of the year, this is not the case to look at. In Aaron B.D. v. Jennifer D. (In re K.B.D.), 2012 Ill. App. 121558 (Dec. 14, 2012), a trial court's verdict awarding the biological father of a young child custody over his biological mother was upheld, due in part to her postings on Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter. While it isn't unusual for a court to look at online evidence in custody proceedings, this case appeared to focus quite heavily on the online activities of the mother and I thought the trial court's take on her activities (and the posting themselves) were quite interesting.

Importantly, the mother Vicki had made a large amount of her postings with references to the child's name, which in turn allowed anyone on the internet to search for the child's name and find inappropriate things the mother had posted. The court:

The court read extensively from Vicki's Internet posts on blogs, Myspace, and Facebook, which the court found were important in making its decision. The court noted that Vicki was an exotic dancer, which was not illegal, but found that her photographs on the Internet were "disturbing," because they depicted "[Vicki's] interest in bondage. Photographs with her hanging from chains with her wrist cuffed. Pictures skimpily dressed; pictures with her hand at her genitals, very, very suggestive photographs. All of these were found on the Internet by the GAL, all by Googling [the child's] name. This is particularly disturbing."
Vicki's argument on appeal was that there was insufficient evidence to show depravity and that the online postings were not enough to take her child away and allow adoption by the biological father and his girlfriend. The court disagreed. (As a side note, there was also evidence that Vicki failed to keep in contact with the child, had mental health issues, and had acted in an irresponsible or odd manner on an untold number of occasions). Examples of Vicki's online activities (from the father's testimony):
Aaron also testified that he had visited Vicki's blog and testified about several entries. ...Vicki had told the child that elves were fictional, which Aaron confirmed that she had done; the blog also discussed Vicki's complaints about Santa, elves, the Easter Bunny, and Snow White. . . . 
Another blog entry was dated May 19, 2009, and was entitled "conception." Aaron testified that the entry contained a large amount of false information about him, including that Vicki told him that she did not wish to have sex with him and that he did so anyway, pinning her down and covering her mouth. . . .
Aaron then testified about Vicki's postings on Facebook. He testified that she created a public profile in the child's name, which included negative comments about Aaron and links to articles about him, and included photos and video of the child.
And from the girlfriends testimony:
Jennifer testified that while they were parenting the child, she searched for the child's name on Google as a precautionary measure. She discovered photographs of Vicki in compromising and provocative positions and "ongoing rants" that Jennifer knew were fabricated. Jennifer further testified that in investigating. . . . Jennifer testified that Vicki posted information about getting her hair done, eating out, and traveling at the same time that she was not paying any child support. 
In the trial court ruling, the court stated:
"The thought that a child could go on online and see what is on these blogs on the Internet is just incomprehensible to me. The thought that his friends could see any of these things. There was one entry which I think I neglected to read that indicated that [Vicki] said she had thought she wouldn't tell [the child] about the rape until he was older, indicating that, perhaps, she had told him about the rape. I certainly hope that's not the case. Given the lack of credibility, I don't believe that it was a rape. I believe it was consensual sex, and I believe that the behavior exhibited throughout the ensuing years has shown a lack of ability to conform to a moral standard[] which is acceptable and, thus, that [Vicki] reaches the definition of depravity."
The appellate court agreed, stating that while "[w]e agree that Vicki's behavior is not on the same scale as murder or predatory criminal sexual assault, both of which result in a presumption of depravity. . . . the commission of these types of crimes is not required in order for a person to be considered depraved." Thus, the great weight of her internet activity, and the ability of the trial court to observe her demeanor during trial was sufficient to uphold the adoption/termination of parental rights.


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