WHEN CHILD SUPPORT & CUSTODY GET UGLY: IS IT DEFAMATION?
By Sara B. Morgan, Esq.
There is no such thing as “happy law”, especially in contested child support, custody, and visitation cases. Of course, the nature of the contested matter is expected to breed a degree of contention and aggravation between the two (or more) parties each contending for what they believe is in the best interests of the child. Unfortunately, this discord often spills over onto the surrounding family members, particularly grandparents, dragging them into the dispute. But what happens when the drama spills over into the public? Is it defamation for a parent or a grandparent to make those nasty comments about you?
A recent court decision, Chaker v. Mateo et al., says it may be free speech. In that case, Plaintiff Darren D. Chaker and his ex-girlfriend Nicole Mateo were engaged in a contentious paternity and support dispute regarding their child. Plaintiff Chaker filed the suit against Nicole and her mother, Wendy Mateo, for alleged defamatory statements posted on various internet websites. Chaker v. Mateo et al, 2012 DJDAR 13830. Some statements, posted on a consumer rating/awareness website, warned would-be consumers to steer clear of the plaintiff and his forensics business, saying he was scary and may take steroids. Other statements, posted on a social networking site, speak of the plaintiff’s poor character, referring to him as a deadbeat dad and a criminal. Ultimately, the courts determined that the child’s grandmother, Wendy Mateo, was exercising her constitutional right to free speech by expressing non-actionable, although negative, opinions about the child’s father.
If I am the victim of negative, harassing, abusive statements, what should I do? The only one-size-fits-all advice on how to respond if you find yourself in such a situation is: TALK TO AN ATTORNEY! Although this plaintiff’s case was dismissed against the grandmother, that ruling was based on a specific set of circumstances. No two situations are alike, and there are many possible solutions to your concerns.
TALK TO AN ATTORNEY TODAY! In most legal situations, time is of the essence. The mere passage of time can harm your ability to obtain the best possible outcome for your particular circumstances. Because the law firm of Heiting & Irwin offers free consultations, there is no reason to put off calling today. We welcome your calls regarding paternity, child support, child custody and visitation, and divorce matters at (951) 682-6400.