Social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have been implicated by researchers in the breakdown of American marriages. While social networking helps users stay connected with old friends, it creates new opportunities for jealousy, invasion of privacy, and cheating.
Social networking sites can be a goldmine for divorce lawyers. They can find information they might never have found using traditional methods of "discovery" (the process used to gather information in a divorce case). There are no laws that exclude information from Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook from being used in divorce proceedings. Information on social networking sites can be obtained via email, cell phone, or computer data retrieval.
This article explores how social networking sites can be used for discovery in the divorce process.
What a Lawyer Can Find on Facebook
Divorce lawyers have access to private information provided by their clients. They also have access to public information found on social media. There is often more information than people realize. A person's overall history and whereabouts may be just a mouse click away, despite Facebook's privacy settings.
People often believe (mistakenly) that their actions online don't have the same consequences as real-life events. For example, they may believe that online flirting is not the same as flirting in a bar. In reality, what people say and do online can have serious repercussions in a divorce or child custody case.
Below are a few examples of damning evidence that may be found on social networking sites. Keep in mind that even if content is deleted, it may be retrievable by forensic experts and could potentially be used in court as evidence in a divorce proceeding.
- A friend's Facebook photo and "tag" show you at a party when you claimed you had no time to see your children. That looks bad for your child custody case.
- An Instagram photo of a high-end purchase conflicts with your story of unemployment. That could affect the judge's decision in your child support or alimony case.
- Twitter party posts conflict with your story of a business trip keeping you away from the kids. That could harm your argument for more visitation.
- A profile on a "dating" site like Ashley Madison could be used as evidence of infidelity.
- A side business on the professional networking site LinkedIn could hint at undisclosed income.
- Finally, most social networking sites can be used to triangulate your whereabouts or to establish habits.
Facebook and Divorce: Legal Issues
Legal issues concerning the use of Facebook data in divorce proceedings vary.
For instance, adultery is still grounds for divorce in some states. In most adultery cases, direct evidence is not available, due to the nature of secretive relationships. Circumstantial evidence, such as photos and information posted on Facebook, may be sufficient to establish adultery.
While evidence-worthy photos on Facebook may not alone be sufficient grounds for divorce, when combined with other information, it may be sufficient proof for an undesirable outcome.
Tips for Facebook Users Facing a Divorce
Before you upload that picture or comment, consider this list of tips to help you avoid a Facebook divorce:
- Know that what you post on any social media site may be used against you in court. Divorce lawyers use Facebook when gathering evidence.
- You do not own the content on Facebook. Facebook has the right to do certain things with your content even without your knowledge.
- Even if you are savvy enough to avoid incriminating posts, friends and family members may not be. They may unknowingly post something damaging about you on their Facebook pages.
- Do not secretly access your spouse's Facebook page hoping to find damaging information. It's a violation of the law to access someone's computer or electronic device without permission. Information you find may become inadmissible in court because it was obtained incorrectly, whereas it might have been admissible had it been obtained fairly.
- If you suspect adultery or other wrongdoing, consider talking to a lawyer about how you can protect yourself.
Facebook, Divorce, and Your Options: Get Legal Help
Even the most amicable divorce can be profoundly stressful, especially in this age of social media. A knowledgeable divorce attorney can guide you through the process to protect your financial security and peace of mind.