Divorce affects every aspect of your life, and even reaches into cyberspace. (Kornblum, 2-14-08; Luscombe, 6-22-09) While we hope that your divorce goes smoothly and you maintain a respectable and healthy relationship with your ex (the welfare of your kids depends on it), the reality is that many divorces get messy, and what you say or do in cyberspace could have implications for the legal or custody battles of your divorce, not to mention life in general. Even parents who aren’t intentionally trying to slander their ex can find themselves in trouble if they aren’t careful.
Divorce lawyers LOVE social networking sites, which contain a treasure trove of evidence which can be gathered to use against an ex in court. “It’s now just routine for us to go over with clients whether they have an active presence on the Web and if they Twitter or have a MySpace page,” says Joseph Cordell of Cordell & Cordell, a domestic-relations law firm with offices in 10 states. “We had a custody case where a mom assured the court that she hadn’t been drinking,” he says. “But her MySpace page had actual dated photos of her drinking – and smoking, which is also of interest.” (Luscombe, 2008) Divorce lawyer Polly Rea O’Toole adds that “Facebook and Twitter have become a part of our social fabric. Its impact on divorce is no less dramatic, as these sites and others like them represent the second-generation of electronic evidence easily available to litigants and their lawyers.” (D Magazine, October 2011)
Just how much of an impact has it had? A recent study in the U.K. showed that more than one-third of all divorce filings contain the word Facebook. (Stein, 2012) So parents need to adhere to the following social networking guidelines both during and after the divorce:
Rules for social networking and internet use during divorce
- No showing off. Posting pictures or discussions about new purchases, vacations, or other luxuries may gain you temporary envy, but they also could influence the courts view of your financial situation and affect your settlement.
- Delete all the crazy party photos on your page, along with anything else that might reflect poorly on your nurturing side. These are commonly used in custody battles. If you would not want a judge or your kids to see or read something, take it off your page.
- Don’t vent in cyberspace. Talking bad about the lawyers, the judge, or your soon-to-be ex-spouse could land you in hot water. Such comments could be used against you in a number of ways.
- Don’t lie! No lies, exaggerations, fibs, or anything else that a court might consider untruthful. For example, one mom listed on a dating site that she had no kids, which let her ex’s lawyer cast doubt about her truthfulness and paint her as a serial liar.
- It’s best not to cut everyone out of your loop right away by “de-friending” your in-laws or all your former spouse’s friends. This is just throwing more flame on the fire, and could work against you.
- It’s not just your own page you need to worry about. Be aware of what’s posted on your friends’ pages or a new partner’s page as well. For example, one hubbies new girlfriend twittered about getting a piece of jewelry from him before the proceedings were through. The piece of jewelry might be regarded as marital assets by the court which are being improperly disbursed to a third party. Or if a friend has a picture of you from that party you attended at her house, dancing on the table in your underwear with a wine cooler in hand, ask her to take it down. Also beware of any new pictures your friends may take. For example, if a friend snaps a photo of you drinking on girls’ night out and posts it to her Facebook page, “that photo is out in the world forever now,” says O’Toole. “It can be retrieved, printed, and used as evidence to support a claim that you are an unfit parent. Never mind that you were actually sober, or that the photo was a joke. The photo will speak for itself, and the judge might not like what it says.” (ibid) Let friends and family know that you’d like them to keep mum about the divorce on their own pages, so as not to fuel conflicts or provide ammo to your ex. It could also hurt you if a judge believes you’re using others to slander your ex in cyberspace.
- Don’t slander your ex anywhere on the computer – ever. Think your kids never use a computer? The rule that scorn towards your children’s mother / father also hurts the child applies in cyberspace as well. Most 1st graders know how to Google, and so even long after divorce proceedings are over and done with, badmouthing an ex on the Internet could hurt your kids when they stumble upon your hateful words later. Family law courts routinely issue restraining orders to prevent one parent from disparaging the other in front of the child. But on the Internet among third parties, the law becomes fuzzy. Stephen Mindel, a managing partner at Feinberg, Mindel, Brant & Klein in Los Angeles, says that “the first amendment is going to come into conflict with the family-law courts.” But regardless of the legality of it all, you shouldn’t engage in such behavior because it will harm your kids.
Trying to bar children from social networking sites won’t work either. “The kids just go on a fishing expedition to find out what’s so secret. And no child needs to see their parent being publicly humiliated,” says Chicago-Based lawyer Jennifer Smetters. And that’s the bottom line: even if such behavior doesn’t come to haunt you in the courts, it’s destructive to the post-divorce environment you need to create on behalf of the children.
- Though the next tip may be difficult, many divorce lawyers advise their clients to take down Facebook pages and the like altogether until the divorce is settled. Ultimately it’s your decision, but this is the safest way to go.