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Don't let social media usage derail your divorce

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

In our ever-connected world, we are just a few clicks away from social media, email, texting, or networking. During a difficult time - like a divorce, job loss, death in the family - we may rely on our friends, relatives and acquaintances for support and as a sounding board for our frustrations.

A divorce - whether it involves military members or civilians - in particular may seem like the ideal time to lean on our social networks. If, for example, you feel like you are being treated unfairly by your spouse, you may be tempted to post a "rant" about the situation on one or more social media sites or apps (like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or others), or to compose a lengthy email or text message to a friend. Take a deep breath, pause, and think about the possible ramifications before you do that, however.

Electronic documentation = evidence

When you are going through any legal matter, there is a process known as "discovery," where each side issues subpoenas to the other and requests a wide variety of information. In a divorce, discovery typically involves:

  • Bank records
  • Pay stubs/payroll data
  • Stock, retirement or pension account information
  • Property titles (including cars, boats, luxury items like artwork and real estate deeds)

A modern divorce also includes a whole new world of evidence that wasn't an issue just a generation or two ago: electronic communications. Surveys of family law attorneys in recent years have shown a sharp uptick in the gathering and use of electronic evidence in divorces, child custody disputes, contested alimony cases and child support matters.

Electronic evidence of all types is at issue here, including:

  • Social media (posts, photographs, "check-ins," tagged messages, direct/private messages)
  • Text messages
  • Phone records
  • Emails
  • App usage (even from "disappearing" apps like Snapchat and Instagram Direct)
  • GPS data

This is well-illustrated with a practical example. Let's say that Jane and Joe are divorcing. The two have decided upon many issues as part of their divorce, but are disagreeing on alimony. Joe has argued in court that he cannot afford to pay Jane alimony, and his financial records seem to support that. However, Joe has recently posted pictures on his Facebook profile showing a brand new sports car he purchased and of an expensive vacation he took with some buddies. Joe and Jane still have some mutual "friends" in the social networks, and she is alerted to the pictures. Her attorney can use those photos as evidence that Joe is hiding assets from the court, and can make a persuasive argument for alimony under the circumstances.

Many experts advise severely limiting social media use during a divorce or other family law dispute. Social media in particular often comes up as a point of contention, because it is easy to "overshare" without realizing it. You could, in a pique of anger, complain about negative developments in the case or ridicule your ex. That could come back to haunt you if it's brought to the court's attention. Remember this: if you wouldn't say it in open court, don't say it on social media, in a text message or in an email. It might be a good time to take an electronic hiatus altogether.

If you are considering divorce, seek the advice of an experienced local family law attorney. A lawyer can answer your questions about the divorce process and will give you a statistically better chance of a favorable, equitable outcome than if you do things yourself.

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