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My ex husband's wife self published a non fiction book and put my kids in the story as well. She did not change their names. Neither she nor my ex husband told me about this or asked me (or the children) if this was ok. I had no idea until the book was published.

Is this legal? They are minors. Ages 13 and under. I understand she is working on a second book now.

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In situations where you have reason to believe that children are in danger, you should contact the appropriate authorities without delay. And while legal questions are technically on-topic here, I strongly suggest you consult a lawyer immediately. – Neil Fein Jan 31 '13 at 4:12
IANAL, but unless the work is actually slanderous, there's no legal recourse against somebody else using your children's names. – JSBձոգչ Jan 31 '13 at 17:10
I'm not sure we can answer legal questions, which vary by jurisdiction. That sounds frustrating, and I wish you luck in finding a solution. – Monica Cellio Jan 31 '13 at 18:45
@MonicaCellio - The community has decided these are on-topic (see this thread) but feel free to revisit this in meta. – Neil Fein Jan 31 '13 at 19:33
@NeilFein, thanks. I'm not trying to change our policy; I just didn't know. – Monica Cellio Jan 31 '13 at 20:35

2 Answers 2

I am not a lawyer. That said:

Whether anything this woman wrote violates the law or gives you grounds for a lawsuit is probably a subject better discussed with a lawyer than with a group of amateur writers on a forum. If you're an American, this would be a matter of state law, so even if I knew all there was to know about the subject in my home state, it might not apply if you live in a different state. Double if you're in another country. Etc. That said:

What is your concern?

Did she say things about the children that would embarass them? If she said things about them that are false, this could rise to the level of being "libel", in which case you might have grounds for a lawsuit.

Did she say things about them that could put them in danger? I'm not sure what that would be, but if so, you might have some grounds for a legal objection.

Is it simply that you object to the violation of privacy? I think -- and let me repeat that I am not a lawyer -- that as long as what she says is true, and does not violate specific provisions of state privacy law -- that there's nothing you can do.

In my home state of Michigan, it is illegal for a library, bookstore, or video store to to publicly reveal what books, videos, etc someone has borrowed, rented, or bought. It is illegal for a bank or similar institution to reveal your financial information without your consent. There are limits on government release of information about you.

But that's about it. If someone writes an autobiograpy, he is inevitably going to talk about people he knows and things they did. If he lies about you, that's libel. But if he tells the truth, he has every legal right to say it. Think about all the things reporters publish every day about politicians and celebrities. Do you think those folks gave their consent to everything said about them?

If it's a self-published book, odds are she will sell somewhere from dozens to a few hundred copies. It's unlikely that the children's future employers, spouses, etc will ever see it unless you go out of your way to publicize it.

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Technically, defamation doesn't hinge on truth or falsehood. It requires a 1. defamatory statement 2. about you 3. that was published and 4. damaged you as a result. Published just means it was communicated to a third party and in libel the damages are assumed. The key in this situation are the first two points. That the statement was defamatory and that someone else could identify you as the target. Truth is an affirmative defense and serves no basis in the initial complaint. – Lazarus Jul 21 at 18:46
Hmm. I am not a lawyer, but almost every discussion I've seen of U.S. defamation law says that falsity is a requirement. See, e.g.,, etc. I understand the U.K. law is quite different on this regard. In any case, the difference between something being a requirement for the complaint and an affirmative defense mostly affects the level of proof required, which is probably an excessively technical point for this discussion anyway. – Jay Jul 21 at 19:52
Your references both agree that a showing of falsity is not required to prove defamation. If you are a plaintiff, all you need to show is that I defamed you according to the points I outline above and your references identify. It is up to me, as defendant, to come back and say, "Sure, I did all those things, but my statements were true!" In other words, if there is no evidence either way as to truth, you still win your suit. The level of proof remains the same (simple preponderance), but the burden of proof shifts from the plaintiff to the defendant. – Lazarus Jul 23 at 21:09

I'm not a lawyer. Any questions about specific rights, etc. should be directed to someone knowledgeable about the rules in your jurisdiction.

That being said, there are a number of things that could complicate this question. For example, you say 'your children' and refer to your 'ex-husband'. Is he the father? If so, do the custody arrangements allow him to make decisions on their behalf? If that's the case, you may be out of options before even getting started.

It would also depend on context. For example, she included the children's first names, but did she include last names, as well? Writing a story about the funny thing Sally or Doug said the other day doesn't create the same concerns as would, "Sally Hanson, at 123 Front St., North Little Rock, Arkansas."

You also need to decide if what was written is really actionable. While it may make you uncomfortable having her mention the children, the law might not take an interest unless she's actually putting them in harm's way or subjecting them to ridicule.

You should also consider the potential damage bringing any type of legal suit against this woman would do to your relationship with your ex-husband, your children, and their relationship with each other. A lawyer will be able to explain your rights, but you first need to decide if you are prepared for the fall-out of exercising those rights. If the new wife's self-published book isn't popular, and you bring a suit that gets noticed by the media, you might wind up advertising the very thing you're trying to quash.

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