Facebook, Social Media And Divorce
A picture of your husband in a strip club, found on a mutual friend’s feed. The name of your wife’s (single) male colleague on your Facebook homepage, after she put an ambiguous ‘winky face’ on his status update about last night.
A cheeky private message sent to your partner’s best friend after a drunken party. Twitter conversations, blog comments, YouTube videos: in the ever-evolving realm of divorce, it can all be evidence.
Social networking was cited in over a third of divorce filings last year. With more and more lawyers becoming aware of the digital trail that our on-line presence inevitably leaves behind, it has become a contentious and increasingly influential dimension of many legal separations.
The average Facebook user uploads 70 pieces of content a month. Individually, it might not seem like a comment here or a like there could be damaging, but collectively these online actions are revealing a great deal about our offline activities.
The situation is, of course, exacerbated by the sensation of ‘private-freedom’ that we experience when on-line: when on the net, we feel both liberated by the ability to present any version of ourselves that we choose, and protected by the combination of our physical isolation and the privacy settings on-screen. This can create a unique type of courage, and can lead us to post things that we would not otherwise reveal.
From our state of mind, to the individuals we communicate with; from the when and where, to dubious pictures, the sum of what we put online can draw a picture of our lives that differs considerably to the one we show our lawyers. As importantly, images and words are open to interpretation, leading to arguments over what did happen and what you claim happened – absolute gold dust for the lawyer of your spouse.
Famously, Stephen and Courtney Gallion were ordered to exchange Facebook passwords to help their respective lawyers uncover the truth behind their stories. In the divorce of Dorothy and Brian McGurk, her request for monthly maintenance payments was dismissed after photographs posted on her blog damaged her case.
She had claimed to be disabled after a car accident during her marriage, and sought compensation from her estranged husband. However, after images of herself out belly dancing surfaced on her blog, the courts ordered her former husband to receive the majority of the income from the sale of the couple’s home ‒ and for her to pay his legal fees‒ despite her protestations of innocence.
Additionally, social media has made it far harder to keep things from your partner. Even after your divorce is finalized, be sensible: using Facebook to trash your ex could have ramifications for you, too. Imagine his boss seeing the words cheater or liar next to his employee’s name. How can your ex pay child support if he loses his job because of your comments?
Similarly, you should think before you use social media to express your feelings about what is happening in your daily life. Such comments are often impulsive reactions that, in the past, we may have spoken aloud only to a couple of close friends; once written in cyberspace, however, they are far less easily erasable.
An update about a weekday hangover or last night’s party could be used as evidence of unreasonable behavior; photos of a party in your living room when your children are upstairs sleeping could surface in a custody battle.
Especially in disputes over finances and children, social media is a minefield as new precedence is constantly being set on what is considered acceptable evidence from these mediums.
It is perhaps too much to ask that divorcing couples avoid using social media altogether: is has become almost a necessity for hundreds of millions of us in today’s modern world. But you should be smart about how you interact on it ‒ take caution when deciding what to post. Some experts will tell you that everything put on Internet stays there in some form or other.
Whether this is true or not, you should consider everything that you upload onto the net as public information as far as the law may be concerned ‒ even, it seems, direct messages and private emails.
Remember, social media is not the culprit here ‒ at the other end of the spectrum, social networking has fostered many a new and prosperous relationship.
Like most things in life, it is how you use it that can be your undoing. If you’d hate for your spouse ‒ or your spouse’s lawyer ‒ to see what you are posting, the rule is simple: don’t post it.
No amount of ‘untagging’ will protect you: your words and pictures can be found, and can be brought before the judge.
What About You?
How does social media affect relationships? We’d love to read your opinion in the comments below.
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Richard Keith is the Communications Principal at Vardags – Britain’s top divorce firm.
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