Freedom of Speech in Jeopardy?

A buddy of mine writes a blog to help people in the midst of contentious divorces, and picking up the pieces after. He’s embroiled in a particular nasty custody battle, and the judge in his case has ordered him to shut down the blog that he runs.

Please go over here and read about this and do what you can to help.

His words: We are asking for help in this defense because it is an issue that faces any parent that is divorced. Imagine a judge telling you that you cannot talk about your children on “any public media” – which would include things like Facebook updates, Twitter, or your personal blog – or you will lose custody.  Imagine the far-reaching consequences for bloggers everywhere if orders such as this one are left unchallenged?  There goes your online support group.  There goes your Facebook and Twitter updates.  Your website, personal OR commercial – ordered gone under threat of incarceration and having your beloved children removed from your custody.  This order flies in the face of our civil rights, and your civil rights, too!

Please do what you can.

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49 Comments

  1. Erica Fox says:

    Never having heard of, much less read, the “Pyscho Ex-Wife” blog, I scurried over to investigate. I think the core issue here is *not* the first amendment rights of the parent blogger, but the well-being of his children. The judge in this case is correct in her assertion that it is/would be emotionally damaging for said children to read (or hear) the kind of vitriole contained in his posts. This, for example, is part of the blogger’s description of his ex-wife, contained in a section called: “The Characters”:

    “She’s on the precipice of 40 and probably looks all 50-years of it. Imagine if you will, Jabba The Hut, but with less personality”

    The fact that this Dad is concerned about his freedom of speech at the expense of his kids mental health shows how one’s perspective can become unbelievably skewed in divorce and how one’s parenting instincts inevitably suffer. This guy shouldn’t *need* to be ordered by a judge to stop publically trashing his ex-wife (even if many of his assertions are correct), he should know.

    As you might imagine, I speak from experience. I was divorced when my kids were young teenagers, and my lips are scarred (!) from themyriad times I bit them so as not to say anything bad about my ex in front of my boys. And now, many years later, I see thisthat restraint paid off.

  2. fille says:

    Did you check out the name of the website the judge wants to take down?

    It is “the psycho exwife”.

    I read a bit into the blog before I came across this post, and it is indeed quite demeaning for Ms “psycho ex-wife” and contains, I suppose, a quite biased presentations of events. Since blogs are completely determined by their owners (who can censor comments as they like), the “psycho-ex-wife” has no opportunity to rectify the biased point of view. This right – to correct wrong presentation of facts by a counterstatement – is also part and parcell of the “freedom of speech”.

    furthermore, there are laws who protect individuals from libel, defamation and offense. This is also something one must respect in the context of freedom of speech.

    Therefore, I suppose the judge was correct when he ordered the blog to be closed. It’s not about infringing on freedom of speech, it is about protecting the intimacy and honor of persons who were demeaned.

    I am quite astonished that you weigh in in favor of a blog entitled “the psycho ex-wife” and ask your readers to do the same, even “as much as they can” to protect this blog from being taken down.

    In general, I am quite taken aback by the uncivil tone that reigns in the “anti-biomom” blogosphere. In Stepmom blogs, most biomoms have Nicknames like “Crack whore” “Voldemort” “Psycho ex-wife”, “Maleficient”, you name it.

    Would you like your ex or his wife to write in these terms about you? Or do you feel that this could not happen to you because you are not evil, as opposed to the moms described in those blogs?

    In my opinion, those blogs (“Psycho-ex-wife” included) say more about their writers than about the ex-wives or “biomoms”. I sometimes commented pointing out that I did not agree with the writer’s point of view: the comments got either censored or I was verbally beaten up by all the other commentators, Even for things that seem quite straightforward to me, like: you don’t call the police to enforce visitation.

  3. HSaboMilner says:

    Ladies – much of what you both write I do agree with.
    However, the main point here is that he writes this blog ANONYMOUSLY. He has changed many identifying details and has gone out of his way to be unidentifiable to anyone.
    He does not name names.
    This is HIS blog about the way HE feels.

    If he blogged under his own name and identified his ex by her name – well, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    I would like to add that even tho he may come across as harsh with words like Jabba the Hutt and Psycho etc – it’s his way of dealing with this.

    again, he is ANONYMOUS – he has a right to write about the way he feels.

    • Ariela says:

      If he is so careful about it being ananymous how does the judge know about it?
      If the judge knows about it so do other people in their community.

      • HSaboMilner says:

        This is how it was discovered: While discussing a contentious matter (orthodontics) as a current event back in the summer of 2009, the ex wife did a google search for “unreimbursed medical expenses for orthodontics.” As the site is popular, a related story of theirs was #1 on google for that search. She clicked on it. She recognized the contents of one of her vicious emails in the blog post. The rest is history.

        That’s how she discovered that the stories were rooted in his experiences.

  4. fille says:

    My question remains:

    Would you like your ex to speak in such derogatory terms about you, even if readers cannot identify you?

    I think the title shows that the ex-husbund has a wrong attitude.
    You could report the same events in a non-derogatory fashion. I think the judge is right to ask for the blog being taken down, and I think that the ex-husband is wrong to even think what he writes there.

    • HSaboMilner says:

      would i like my ex to speak in such derogatory terms about me? No – but he has that right.

      Do I ever speak about him, or about my husband’s ex wife, on my blog in a less than positive manner? No – because that isn’t who I am. But that is my choice. If I chose to blast either of them – i have the right of free speech afforded to me – and so long as I don’t name names, my rights should be protected.

      I just want to add that it is very difficult to understand divorce and raising kids in a post-divorce household and all those stressors involved in dealing with ex spouses UNLESS one has been through it oneself. I had many opinions on the rights and wrongs in this situation – until I was forced into these situations myself.

      • fille says:

        Yes, I know that this is not who you are.

        This is why I respect you.
        But I have less respect for bio-mom-bashing stepmoms or ex-bashing husbands…

  5. fille says:

    Furthermore, anonymity is much overrated in the blog-world. In general, it is not too difficult to identify the persons, particularly on the part of aquaintances who stumble onto the blog for one reason or another.

    Just to give you an example: I read a book about an anonymous Rabbi in Israel who somehow seemed to harrass women. One year later, I stumbled upon a detail- completely unrelated, that allowed me to identify the person…

    • fille says:

      I just made the test as far as anonymity is concerned: it took me about 2 hours to un-anonymize a random stepmom blog…
      …not that hard…

  6. Mike S. says:

    Well,

    What the judge in a custody case is supposed to do is consider the best interest of the children. And being with a parent who is constantly speaking harshly and bitterly of the other parent is not likely to be in that interest. While you say the blogger took steps to remain anonymous they apparently didn’t keep the ex-wife from figuring out who was writing it. If so, the kids will be able to figure it out too, or, if they are too young, will be able to do so in a few years. And, while he seems to have taken the blog down, it seems to me, judging from your commenters, it was pretty extreme. People going through a bitter divorce may need to vent, but they should do that privately. The internet, even in an anonymous blog, is really a public space, as Rep. Wiener and a couple of men pretending to be lesbian bloggers found out recently.

  7. Dave says:

    Non-disparagement requirements are not unusual (as far as I know) in family law.

    Moreover, they can go beyond what the poster is complaining about. For example, assume your ex- converted to Christianity. The court can tell them that they cannot tell the child that the non-Christian parent is going to Hell, even though that is a matter of religious doctrine. While parents (acting jointly) have enormous control under the law over how their children are raised, once you get into family court (and the parents are in conflict), all sorts of otherwise unusual cases come up.

    In this case, saying “you may not publically disparage their mother” as a condition is not unreasonable.

  8. Mark says:

    People have all sorts of rights, including the right to free speech/blogging. However sometimes the rights of two people come into conflict. In this case, the rights of the children (for example their right to privacy during a legal process of custody) conflict with the right to blog about the process. And that’s what a judge is for, the judge decides whose rights to abridge temporarily while the legal process is proceeding. It’s not much different than any “gag order” during legal proceedings.

  9. mistressnovela@novelwhore.com says:

    Just because someone blogs something doesn’t mean that is what they say around their children. ALL of us say things to other adults that we wouldn’t say around our children, I believe that is the point of this blog. If the Dad was saying this stuff to the kids, that would be one thing, but he’s not, it’s online, anonymous and the kids don’t see it. Do you believe a judge should be able to tell you what you can talk about when you are not around your children? Maybe you shouldn’t be able to watch porn because clearly it shows you are a horrible parent, or you swear while at a ballgame with your buddies, guess your kids should be removed! I read the blog, and the kind of things that mother did to her kids FAR outweigh the father writing about how he dealt with the situations. I wonder how many of us would be pissed if someone filed false child abuse allegations against us, or had to wonder if our kids were safe when they were with their alcoholic mother, sitting back while the courts ignored all of it. What is abuse, a mother blacking out while drinking around her 8 year old, or a father writing about the safety plan he had to put in place because of the situation? Of course he is pissed, his kids are in harms way, you should thank your lucky stars your kids aren’t.

  10. Mister-M says:

    While several of you make very interesting points, there is a lot being overlooked that will continue to confound me to no end.

    It’s a story based on true events. It’s not unlike any book, any television show, or any other vehicle for free speech. In order for something to be libelous or slanderous, first and foremost – it has to be untrue. I assure you that every documented event that has been written about on the blog can be supported by objective evidence.

    Despite claims to the contrary, the children would have no way of knowing that any of that story had anything to do with their family life, unless an irresponsible parent chose to share either the site or its contents with them.

    I completely understand that the style in which the stories are written can be off-putting to many. However, describing ones feelings as they existed in a time long ago and far away is not unhealthy, sociopathic, psychotic, nor any of those things. It’s just that. A story and it’s designed to attract people who are going through similarly horrendous circumstances. The site has served to help legions of people better manage their own chaotic situations. You cannot make that kind of connection without clearly demonstrating that you understand the depths of despair that they have endured. I have been there.

    However, a most important point and one that remains lost on a lot of people is that unlike my ex-wife – I don’t speak horribly of their mother to them, near them, around them, in any capacity. That is absolutely, provably not true of my ex-wife. Further, it will never cease to amaze me that so clearly and often overlooked by detractors is the reality that nearly every single account begins with horrifying, abusive, vulgar contact from the ex-wife and/or her family. Our commentary is an afterthought when it comes to the real nuts and bolts of the issues – what the children experience while in her household with her and her family.

    No one has to “like” the means by which we seek to assist others. You don’t have to like how we write about our feelings about: false accusations of all kinds of abuse… the children going through questioning after a false accusation of abuse from hundreds of miles away to child protective services… both the children and the step-children living in abject fear in the aftermath of being taken away from their parents… countless calls to police for “welfare checks” from many states away to the point where we know the police by name… the threatening phone calls and emails from family members and the ex-wife… the vulgar, abusive, harassing emails… the litany of false pleadings and perjury that are proven to be so without sanction… the custodial interference… to her being found in contempt of court on two issues (including the custodial interference)… the alcoholism and employing the children to hide her drunken episodes from their father and everyone else for a long period of time under threat of punishment and/or losing her… and innumerable other experiences that have taken a horrible toll on the entire family.

    That people still want to harp on the chronicling of those situations in a forum where we would actually get listened to and serve to help others avoid the early mistakes I made in contributing to those escalations as somehow worse that the terror that she puts everyone through regularly is shocking and saddening to me.

    I have to wonder how much rationalizing, hedging, and defense some people would be offering if the genders were reversed? I have my suspicions.

    The bigger picture is this – rulings such as these threaten the civil rights of anyone going through a high conflict custody and divorce situation – and pretty much any situation that a judge doesn’t happen to like a parent or any individual from talking about – even when the tone or content is allegedly “objectionable.” There goes your personal blog…. you tweets… your facebook updates… your book… your television show… your online support group… and so on.

    How one chooses to write a story based upon personal experiences here is not what is a threat to the children’s well-being. It’s the person perpetrating what is written about that is. You can’t possibly, in good conscience, argue that the existence of a virtually anonymous blog is justification for placing the children in an environment with an alcoholic parent, who is jobless, whose home is in foreclosure, and who clearly is not getting the help she so desperately needs is an appropriate decision (nevermind the legalities of it all).

    She has acted as she has before the blog, she has acted as she has since its discovery, and she will continue to act as she has if it vanishes from the face of the earth. These are indisputable facts. And the family court system, as it does in far too many cases, will continue to aid and abet these behaviors in pathologically high-conflict ex’s hell bent on total destruction of their targets. We see it in the legions of people we try to help every single day.

    • Mark says:

      The judge told you not to discuss wife/kids online. You defied the judge and got caught. Do you think that’s going to help your case?

      And if what you say is true, that your ex-wife is a hazard to your children, you have put them in danger by your defiance of the judge.

      • Mister-M says:

        Mark – the kids were placed back with the mother 50% of the time irrespective of the blog. The children are not in danger because of the blog. The children are in danger because the judge is not having legitimate hearings on the issues that directly affect the children.

        While I agree that the blog most certainly represents a distraction – it doesn’t change the ultimate outcome. The judge just presumed that this is two parents bitching about one another – ignored the contents of a custody evaluation, ignored the testimony of the children to the custody evaluator – refused to speak to the children – and refused to review the evidence of her latest petition that is full of provable falsehoods.

  11. Dave says:

    If it were truly anonymous, it would not have come to the attention of the Court.

    Therefore, there is identifiable information in the blog. And, presumably, the children (and others) could also identify it. This is (like it or not) within the purview of a family court.

    And, interestingly enough, it’s fairly Solomonic. Which is more important, the welfare of your children, or running a public blog?

    (If the answer is the latter, then perhaps neither of you should have custody)

    (As another aside, blogs, tweets, Facebook and the like have been enormously useful to divorce lawyers — when you are in litigation the worst thing you can do is put that sort of unvetted information out into the public space)

  12. fille says:

    Are you sure that people could not just take the date, the name of the judge & court, roam the archives and find out who you are?

    You claim that you want to protect your and your family’s privacy. I have a slight fear that the indications you publish (right now) might be counter-productive to this aim.

    Never under-estimate web- and real life researchers…

    • Mister-M says:

      I don’t underestimate it and I know what the consequences are for what’s unfolding as a result of this judge’s order.

      As I’ve told others – our backs are now against the wall. Since I’ve been given an order that I cannot possibly comply with, I have little choice but to do whatever is necessary (legally) to protect my freedom and get a fair hearing where the concerns of my family and the evidence of all of the issues are heard in a legally appropriate way.

      It’s incredibly unfortunate.

  13. Mister-M says:

    Dave – for 7 years and running, the issues that have faced our family have been consistently ignored (for the most part) by the family court.

    This isn’t a choice between the children or the blog, no matter how much you or others try to make it so. There are real issues that the children are facing which have been verified by independent parties and testified to (to a custody evaluator, school counselors, family counselors, and others) by the children.

    If the blog vanishes from the face of the earth tomorrow – these issues still exist, remain unchanged, and the children are still in a very tenuous environment that has existed for seven long years.

    If you were faced with such challenges and you need your voice and the issues to be heard and you’ve gotten no relief from any other avenue… what would you do? Give up?

    • Dave says:

      And so you’ve decided to prejuidice your position within the legal system (which is where decisions are made and appeals are heard) in favor of having a public voice on the World Wide Web.

      This does NOT seem to be the path of Wisdom.

      • Mister-M says:

        Forgive me if I don’t understand what you mean by “prejudicing” my position. Within the family court – there is no such thing. In Superior Court and Federal Court – that’s entirely another matter.

        • Dave says:

          Wilfully violating the orders of the Court is a really good way to ensure that you will never get the benefit of the doubt. Ever.

          • Mister-M says:

            Willfully violating clearly illegal court orders is standing up for my civil rights. You may not take that seriously, but I do.

          • Dave says:

            It *isn’t* a clearly illegal court order. That’s the point.

            Non-disparagement orders were not invented in your case. They exist, and as far as I know, they have not only never been determnied to be unconstitutional (when applied to two parents in a custody case), they have in fact been upheld as far as restricting a parent’s right to religious education of a child (which doubles down on two clauses of the First Ammendment).

  14. fille says:

    I just read on your webpage that the existence of your website was revealed to your children by your ex-spouse.

    Now consider this:

    “psychos” i.e. persons with mental health issues are fragile. Even more so their children.

    Did you really need to bring your children in a situation where they learn that you routinely refer to their mother as “psycho”?

    • Mister-M says:

      That horse has left the barn. As thin an argument as it may be – there are any number of blogs out there that the disordered individual can believe is “about them.”

      I understand the conflict that exists between the fact that mom shares inappropriate information with the children and the fact that I wrote a story that is based, in part, on our experiences.

      However, don’t lose sight of the fact that mom has been doing that from the outset. Before the blog, during the blog, and will continue to do so after the blog.

      I’m not sure why so many people believe that vaporizing the blog changes the circumstances under which they live… but it sure makes for a lively, interesting debate and discussion.

      • fille says:

        If your wife vents about your in front of the children the same way you do about her in the blog, I clearly condemn this behaviour.

        As far as the blog is concerned, let’s change paradigm.

        Forget about the court order.
        If a school friend of your children wrote you a mail stating that they discovered the blog and are about to publish the link to all their classmates. Would you take the blog down?

        If your answer is yes, you just found your answer.

        Because the risk that this might happen is always present.
        Proof: your wife found the blog and identified it correctly, although people claim that you changed details to protect privacy.

        • Mister-M says:

          Strawman arguments never lead to productive discussion. A schoolchild would never be privy to the details which exist on the blog. Even if we presumed that was likely, the email would not be acknowledged in the interests of protecting everyone’s privacy.

          I ask you – where are you finding there to be a difference between living it and reading about what you’re living?

          • fille says:

            I’ll tell you why I do not believe in “anonymity”.

            My father has a down-syndrome sister. My mother did not want her family to find out.

            A social worker in my father’s family told my mother’s great-aunt that it even happens that “this working class family” (my father’s) could marry into a higher civil servant’s family (my mother’s). Of course, my mother’s great-aunt identified my mother’s family and my parent’s wedding. Next day, all of my mother’s family stood at my parent’s doormat to “prevent them from having more children”.

            This social worker clearly violated her confidentiality duty. But probably she did not cite names, she did change details, but as destiny had it, she happened to talk to the wrong person.

            Now multiply this by “the internet” where
            - anyone has access
            - you blog over a longer time and post all kinds of details you forget about later
            - bloggers can view your archives any time.
            - you have no control who reads what and who remembers what (and what be impossible to delete from the internet anyway).

            As I said before, it took me 2 hours to identify a random stepmom blog. I just took 3 different events mentionned at different times on the blog, found out where they had taken place, and eventually was able to identify the names of virtually all the persons mentionned in the blog, and in any case of the main caracters.
            And I do not even live in the same town, nor the same state, nor the same country.

          • Mister-M says:

            I do understand that. Completely.

            If I had the power to remove everything from that blog and chose instead to publish a book, do you believe the court should have the authority to prohibit me from publishing it under threat of incarceration and/or putting the children in an unstable environment?

          • fille says:

            Yes. For exactely the same reasons. And the ones DAve and Mark and ERica Fox mentionned.

          • fille says:

            PS: the Yes referred to the first part of the question.

            No, I do not think that a family court should endanger children by entrusting them to a person who is not trustworthy.

            And yes, I am aware that this happens, unfortunately.

          • fille says:

            ..and as Mark and Dave mentionned: your best contribution to keep this from happening – according to the circumstances you depict – would be to drop the issue of the blog.

          • Mister-M says:

            Except that since I can’t make all references of it vanish from the internet as ordered, I remain in the same predicament, but worse – so do the children.

            And since you would sacrifice your civil liberties to the authority of the government, we probably have little else to discuss.

          • Dave says:

            The order is narrowly tailored, and on the face of it meets the requirement to serve an established compelling state interest. Moreover, it isn’t breaking new legal ground in the slightest.

            It is, as far as I can tell, Constitutional.

          • fille says:

            See, here you get legal advice for free.

            And you aknowledged that anyone could break your anonymity at any time, while you want to protect the anonymity for your children’s wellbeing.

            So I think all the questions have been answered.

  15. fille says:

    “what would you do? Give up?”

    I do not think that the blog is an issue worth fighting for.

    There might be other issues that are, because the situation seems difficult indeed.

    But every time you fight you have pre-determined loosers: your children. They will lose out not matter what the outcome of the fight.

  16. Mister-M says:

    I will repeat myself. I am not fighting for the existence of the blog. First and foremost, I am fighting for my freedom and fighting for the opportunity for a court with a judge who follows the law to allow testimony, evidence, and consideration for the children’s wishes. I’m fighting for the opportunity for the blog not to be used as justification for placing the children in an decidedly unstable environment.

    The free speech issue, the unlawful prior restraint issue, the violations of federal civil rights statutes are very important – but make no mistake, my first priority is putting myself in a position to defend myself against what is happening.

    • fille says:

      Well, if you collect donations and people are ready to contribute for this purpose, all the better for you.

      I’d rather you keep the money as a kind of payment for your “blogging services” or spend it for your children.

      • Mister-M says:

        While that may be a nice thought, that’s not what people are donating for. The people who are helping understand the far reaching implications not only for my family, but for many many families everywhere – including their own.

        • fille says:

          So change the purpose of the donations and kepp the money.

          • Mister-M says:

            How utterly reprehensible that would be. You can’t possibly be serious.

          • fille says:

            In my view, it is less reprehensible to keep 1500 $ of donations made for a certain purpose than publishing a blog entitled “the psycho-ex-wife”, based on a real story.

            But if you find the solution reprehensible you might as well give them the money back, even better…

          • fille says:

            ..and, by the way, since you are anonymous, people who donate should be aware that there is no guarantee whatsoever that their donations will be used for the stated purpose. Things have happened in the past…

  17. Dave says:

    I just read the court order linked from your web site.

    Your posts *here* are in direct violation of the court order. Moreover, if you are trying to argue that orders against public disparagement as part of family law involving children are unconstitutional, you have an awfully steep hill to climb.

    Truth is a perfect defense against libel and slander. But non-disparagement clauses in family court aren’t about truth, they are about the children and their relationship with both parents. And since you elected to conduct yourself in a public forum, it’s not like it’s difficult for the court to find it. She may be disparaging you, but if she is, she isn’t doing it in front of the eyes of the Judge. You are.

    This is not (as far as I can tell) a novel ruling, And breaking court orders is generally a really bad idea.

  18. Erica Fox says:

    With all due respect…I wonder whether the posters and others who support this blogger pursuing his “rights” have experienced divorce and its unimaginable impact on children. I’ll bet anything they haven’t. This is one instance in which abstract philosophizing, no matter how well intentioned, is meaningless. If you haven’t parented kids through and after a divorce, you really aren’t “qualified” to pass judgement on this issue. End of story.

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