Getting divorced and working through child custody/decision-making and support issues can be difficult enough for the parties involved even in the most amicable cases. However, when a contentious divorce involving a famous party makes the news with every court filing and appearance, the divorce can lead to a flurry of bitter comments directed by the former husband and wife at each other. Whether expressions of distaste about an ex-spouse that a party posts on social media are covered by the First Amendment was one of the points of law recently heard by an Arizona appellate court in the ongoing divorce proceedings between Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash and his former wife.
In addition, the Court of Appeals ruled on the mother’s request for child support after the Superior Court allegedly failed to follow the Child Support Guidelines when making its determination.Steve Nash, formerly a player for the Phoenix Suns, and his wife were married in 2005, and are the parents of twin girls and a son. On the day after his son’s birth in 2010, Nash announced to Life & Style magazine that he and his wife were dissolving their marriage. Three years later, the former couple is still in court trying to resolve issues of child support and violations of the joint custody agreement.
Child support issue
To determine child support, an Arizona court must follow the Child Support Guidelines (found at A.R.S. §25-320). The former Mrs. Nash alleged that the judge who decided the child support obligations for the Nashes did not follow the correct process, and she appealed the ruling. Although Steve Nash has made almost $128 million during the 17 years he has played in the NBA (according to International Business Times), Nash’s ex-wife alleged that the Superior Court did not determine his monthly gross income, which is one of the necessary steps in arriving at the correct child support amount. In addition, the lower court ordered Nash to pay for the children’s insurance and education expenses, but he was not ordered to pay any child support to his ex-wife. The Court of Appeals found that the Superior Court erred in arriving at its result and sent the case back so that the Superior Court could determine the amount of child support by following the appropriate procedure under the statute.
Tweeting and the First Amendment
When the court issued the joint custody agreement, it included a provision on respectful communication between the parties. Basically, the parties agreed that they would not disparage each other to the children and that each would show respect for the other parent in their interactions with the children. In response to a statement critical of the father’s integrity on the mother’s Twitter feed, the Parenting Coordinator cautioned the mother against making any additional negative comments about her former spouse on any social media. The court then issued an order adopting the Parenting Coordinator’s recommendation, pointing out that with the nature of social media, it is highly likely that someday in the future, the children could read the mother’s remarks about their father.
The mother appealed from this order, claiming it infringed upon her First Amendment rights to free speech. The Court of Appeals found that the order was constitutional. Since the parents had agreed to certain restrictions on their speech concerning each other to their children and since disparaging comments on social media could be accessed by the children at some point, the court found the order was in keeping with the spirit of their agreement.
If you are contemplating divorce and have questions about your situation, an experienced family law attorney can give you guidance as to how you should proceed.