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Divorcing parent’s nondisparagement order violates free speech

On Behalf of | Jun 5, 2020 | Family Law | 0 comments

Sometimes, Pennsylvania couples no longer feel the need to preserve the peace when their differences lead to divorce, and it is a rare case when intramarital fighting does not remain behind closed doors. Modern gossip has migrated from the neighborhood diner to social media platforms, giving the world an insider’s view of an ex-spouse’s embarrassing personal habits or indiscretions. 

Judges often curtail contentious public exchanges by issuing nondisparagement orders and enforcing them with contempt charges and harsh punishments. However, some argue these restrictions violate the right of free speech, and there may now be a precedent to support their objections. 

In the interest of the children 

According to the New York Times, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overturned a court order that prohibited a man from making disparaging divorce-related posts about his ex-wife on social media. This particular nondisparagement order, like most, primarily meant to protect the couple’s child from psychological and emotional damage inflicted by the publicly accessible hateful dialogue. Yet, a justice who supported the ruling intimated that such an order to suppress free speech required more substantiation than a parent’s general desire to protect the child. 

In the interest of the First Amendment 

Civil rights activists often believe that government restriction on speech is a slippery slope. They support the philosophy by comparing social media to a “town square.” Even though the internet drastically broadens the reach of a person’s ideas and opinions, the same First Amendment rights should apply. Common sense and a shared desire for the child’s welfare ought to be enough to govern how divorcing parents treat each other in the public eye. 

Still, a contentious divorce often makes objective communication nearly impossible for some couples. Parents should put their children’s interests first; many seek representation that can help calm the waters while striving for the most favorable outcome. 



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