June 20, 2017
Social media is a constant presence in our lives. It has become a forum for us to catch up with friends across distances, share our triumphs large and small, and feel more connected to family. As such, social networking can be a positive experience. Yet it can be the bane of your existence if you are in the middle of a divorce or custody matter.
With the evolution of social media and the war stories I have encountered over the years as a family law attorney, I have developed a set of rules that I share with all my clients involved in divorce or custody disputes. Perhaps much of this advice goes without saying, but I would rather that my clients be thoroughly apprised of the pitfalls of using social media during a dispute.
- Don’t complicate your divorce or custody matter with social networking. Though it may feel natural to share your struggles, or even the details of your new single life, online with social media friends, resist doing so. I recommend that if at all possible, my clients cease the personal use of social media completely during divorce or custody litigation. Remember, however, that while you may be able to deactivate your personal social media accounts, you cannot destroy content shared on the internet during litigation. Spoliation of evidence – that is, withholding, altering, hiding, or destroying of evidence – is just as relevant to civil matters as it is to criminal cases.
- If you must use social networking, remember that what you say can and will be used against you. Social media evidence is used in family courts with increasing frequency. For example, a spouse who claims not to have income available for child support might post pictures vacationing with a new partner in an exotic locale, or even buying an engagement ring. Once published, this information can spread quickly. If you have nothing nice to say about your spouse / child’s other parent, say nothing at all. In all but the most extreme cases, when settling a child custody dispute, the presiding judge’s aim will be to ensure that a child is adequately provided for and is able to continue having a good relationship with both parents. You do not want to appear, in a judge’s view, to be a hindrance to your child’s relationship with his or her other parent.
- Beware of your frenemies. It is natural for friends of divorcing spouses or polarized parents to pick sides. Be prepared for it and guard your words.
- Change your passwords. Don’t use passwords that can be easily decoded. Make sure you have an email account that cannot be accessed by anyone other than you. Change and continually review your privacy settings on social media sites as well. While there are laws to protect privacy and the criminal prosecution of cybercrimes is evolving, you can never be too careful.
- A picture is worth a thousand words, and potentially big bucks. So many lies, omissions, and indiscretions are revealed through social media. It is also important to be careful with images of your child; be respectful of your child’s other parent’s wish to keep your child’s identity private from internet consumption.
It is an unfortunate reality that you should expect every detail of your life to be closely examined when you are party to a divorce or child custody matter. It is, however, the current reality. Therefore, my recommendation is that the best way to protect yourself from having information about you subject to interpretation by a court is to refrain from sharing it online at all.
The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances. The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.