Addressing Cyberstalking and Harassment in California Family Law.

Understanding Cyberstalking and Harassment in California

In the digital age, the prevalence of cyberstalking and harassment has become a significant concern, especially within the context of family law. California, like many states, has taken steps to address these issues, recognizing the profound impact they can have on individuals and families. Cyberstalking and harassment can manifest in various forms, from relentless messaging and online shaming to more insidious tactics like using GPS to track someone's movements.

Legislation Addressing Cyberstalking and Harassment

California law defines cyberstalking as the use of electronic communication to make a credible threat against someone, thereby placing that person in reasonable fear for their safety or the safety of their family. Under California Penal Code Section 646.9, cyberstalking is a criminal offense that can be met with serious legal consequences. Moreover, California's domestic violence laws have been expanded to include stalking and harassment, even when conducted digitally.

For example, in 2014, the case of People v. Fernino saw an individual convicted of stalking after sending threatening emails and messages over social media. This case highlighted how traditional stalking behaviors have transitioned into the digital realm and demonstrated California courts' willingness to prosecute such actions.

Protective Measures in Family Law

In family law cases where stalking or harassment is an issue, courts can issue restraining orders to protect victims. These orders can prohibit contact through digital means and may include specific provisions related to electronic communications. Violating a restraining order is a separate offense that can lead to additional penalties.

Family law attorneys in California are increasingly aware of the role that cyber harassment plays in divorce, custody, and other family law matters. They may advise their clients on how to collect evidence of cyberstalking or harassment—such as screenshots or records of communications—which can be critical in court proceedings.

Cyberstalking in the Context of Divorce

During divorce proceedings, tensions run high, and unfortunately, this can lead to instances of cyberstalking or harassment. In contentious divorces, one partner may use technology to monitor or intimidate the other—actions that California courts do not take lightly. Evidence of such behavior can influence the court's decisions regarding custody and visitation rights if it suggests a threat to the child's well-being.

For instance, in Marriage of Nadkarni, the court found that accessing a spouse's emails could constitute an invasion of privacy with potential implications for divorce proceedings. Although not cyberstalking per se, this case underscores how digital misconduct is scrutinized under family law.

Resources for Victims

Victims of cyberstalking have resources at their disposal in California. Aside from seeking legal remedies like restraining orders, individuals can report incidents to local law enforcement or consult with organizations dedicated to combating online harassment. Additionally, California's robust legislative framework provides a clear avenue for legal recourse against perpetrators.


Cyberstalking and harassment are modern challenges that California's family law system continues to confront. As society grows ever more interconnected through technology, it becomes imperative for laws to evolve accordingly. Victims should be reassured that there are protections available to them, and perpetrators should be aware that their actions will have consequences under the law.