We’ve all heard cautionary tales of job seekers having been denied positions or promotions due to questionable online activity, including dubious pictures or postings. However, few of us consider the potential effect social media and digital communications can have on family law and divorce proceedings. A misguided Facebook post or tweet can have implications far beyond the immediate by creating unforeseen complications in your divorce settlement negotiations.
While communicating online can be fun and useful, choose the information you share very carefully. Not every one of your “friends” is really a friend and when a marriage dissolves; people tend to choose sides. The simplest interactions can be misinterpreted and skewed against you.
Divorce attorneys routinely scour social media when searching for evidence in support of their clients. In fact, a large majority of family law attorneys report that they have used information gained from social media to the benefit of their client against the other spouse. For example, I recently used the résumé information posted to LinkeIn by my client’s ex-husband to assist our own vocational expert in producing a report of the husband’s earning capacity that we used against him in court. This proved much easier and less expensive for my client than using discovery techniques available through the court process.
Suppress the Need to Share News – Good or Otherwise
Facebook posts and tweets can be deceptive. For example, an innocent picture taken on the ski slopes of Aspen Colorado may suggest that you should pay more spousal support than you really can afford. Even if this was only a one-time special trip, it could affect the judge’s opinion who is determining your ability to pay support. A picture is worth a thousand words.
As another example, others may view a photo of you and a friend out on the town as evidence of an extramarital relationship, even if there was nothing of the sort.
Despite the fact that you’ve blocked your spouse from your social media account, word will get back to him or her. This is the design of social networks – - – many eyes see your posts.
Remember, Your Posts Are Admissible In Court
Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. There is an immediacy to social media, lending itself to a more visceral interaction. We tend to say things in the heat of the moment that, given time for thought, we would choose not to share.
Posting negative information or comments regarding your spouse is never a good idea. If any are proven to be untrue, you may face a libel suit. Even if your comments are accurate, the courts generally discourage online sparring, particularly when child custody is involved.
Impromptu thoughts and comments could come back to haunt you. For example, if you are willing to post negative comments about the other parent online, in a forum visible to many people, the judge deciding custody of your child is much more likely to believe that you will speak negatively of the other parent in the presence of the child – - – this could easily hurt your child custody case.
If You Must Post, Follow a Few Simple Rules
The most effective way to ensure that social media does not damage your case is to stop using it all together – at least for the duration of the divorce proceedings. However, unless you want to find out firsthand how social media can affect your divorce, we suggest that you:
- Change your privacy settings and block your soon to be ex. Your spouse’s attorney will likely be monitoring your social media accounts and will most certainly discover past comments, regardless of these changes. However, you’ll want to limit the damage as much as possible moving forward.
- Assume that your spouse has access to your account, even if you are no longer “friends” online. Changing your privacy settings can help limit your online exposure. However, remember that even if you block your spouse from directly accessing your social media posts, all that it takes is one mutual friend or acquaintance that still has access to your posts to forward this information to your ex.
- Do not post anything while angry or frustrated. Sit back and think carefully before you post anything. Consider how your post is likely to reflect on your character. Your spouse’s attorney and the court can read anything you post – and very well may. Assume that anything you post will be read by the judge presiding over your case.
- Do not post anything you would be uncomfortable having your children read. Tweets and posts are forever. Should you act rashly, you could come to regret it years from now.
- Avoid social sites that encourage flirting such as dating sites. For example, if you have an online dating profile where you list yourself as not having any children, imagine how this could be turned against you by the other parent’s attorney in a child custody dispute. If you are seeking alimony, online evidence suggesting an extra-marital relationship existing prior to your date of separation could damage or destroy your claim for alimony.
- If you must discuss your divorce, keep it off-line. Visit friends, talk on the telephone, or discuss your issues in a venue that provides some element of control over who is consuming your message. And remember – the walls have ears.
How Can Social Media Affect My Divorce
The safest and most effective way to avoid collateral damage from activity on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, etc., is to abstain all together from using social media – at least until the divorce proceedings have concluded. Short of abstinence, try following the guidelines above and use extreme caution before posting any information about yourself, updates regarding your career, new purchases, or anything that could be skewed against you to affect your spousal support, child custody or child support case. We always advise our clients to be honest with the court. However, even the appearance of impropriety could damage your case. Do not paint yourself in a negative light.
Should You Have Any Doubt, Ask Your Attorney
Should you have any questions regarding the perceived impropriety of any social media interaction, contact your attorney before hitting the “send” button. Get his or her opinion before your spouse’s attorney provides one to you – one you don’t need or want to hear. Contact Montgomery Family Law at (919) 348-2317 to speak with an experienced family law attorney equipped to answer your questions regarding divorce, spousal support and the ways in which social media can affect your divorce.