As Charleston divorce attorneys, we frequently deal with issues that stem from a couple’s use of social media during their divorce. Social media provides an open forum for anyone going through the pain of a divorce to vent their feelings to all of the friends and followers. Unfortunately, a tweet, a Facebook post, or a share on Google Plus can have significant financial and legal effects on your divorce depending upon how a South Carolina family court judge interprets that share on social media. This article explores how to avoid making costly mistakes on social media while you are going through a divorce.
There’s Nothing “Private” About Social Media
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google Plus are either a divorce lawyer’s nightmare or a dream come true depending on how their clients engage online. These sites provide useful, and oftentimes damaging, information regarding a spouse such as where they have been, who they were with, what they did when they were there, how they behaved, and oftentimes photos that illustrate the spouse’s activities. Also, activities on dating sites such as eHarmony, Match, and Ashley Madison typically result in devastating consequence for the spouse who choose to ‘move on’ from the marriage before their divorce.
Some spouses foolishly believe that they can keep their social media activity private by blocking their ex and their ex’s friends. In many cases, my clients have obtained information about their spouse’s online activities by logging into a friend’s account, making a fake account to engage with their spouse, or asking their friends to print or take screenshots of the estranged spouse’s social media feeds and posts. For example, in one of my family law cases, my client’s husband sought custody and visitation of the parties’ children. The husband posted to Facebook messages and pictures regarding his latest big purchase of marijuana, private messages about how he hid a financial account, and pictures of his new girlfriend’s pregnancy. Needless to say, he wasn’t successful in his claim for custody.
Social Media and Children of Divorce
It isn’t just the spouses’ social media posts that can be used as evidence against a spouse, but children’s post too. Just like some grown-ups, children vent on social media to their friends and followers. In a recent custody case I was involved in, a teenage child was venting on Instagram about how they felt about their parent and how poorly the parent was treating them. Upon further investigation, the child was venting because the child had been disciplined for failing to abide by some of the house rules involving curfew and doing chores. Until the matter was cleared up, the opposing lawyer and the lawyer’s client were making a big “to-do” that the other parent was a bad custodian.
Using Social Media During Your Divorce
Past Posts– Regarding older posts that may be damaging to you in family court, think twice before you start deleting all of your information! Under South Carolina law, there is a legal doctrine known as “spoliation.” Essentially, it means that if evidence within your control “disappears” in relation to a legal dispute, such as a divorce, the court can infer that whatever went missing was incriminating. In other words, without even seeing this “evidence,” the court can decide against you by determining that the information, whatever it was, was damaging to you.
Future Posts – Think before you post! Ask yourself before you post, share, tweet, check-in, or otherwise engage on social media – “What would a family court judge think of my social share?” If you post hateful things about your ex, then don’t be surprised when the family court views you as a hateful, vengeful person. In real life, you may be a wonderful person and parent. However, in a court of law, your post can easily be taken completely out of context, and you may be judged “in a vacuum” by that single post. Suppose that in your divorce you are claiming that you do not have enough money to either live without support or enough to pay support. How sympathetic do you think a family court judge will be to your plight if your posts consist of you dining out, boating, drinking, going on trips and get-aways, or posing with a new shiny toy to bought to help yourself “get over” your divorce. You don’t have be a lawyer to figure out that your posts will weigh heavily against you in family court. When in doubt about whether you should share on social media – DON’T DO IT!
Children’s Posts – What about your children’s posts? Assuming that you allow your children to use social media, then stifling their use may seem like a “punishment” to them. After all, the divorce isn’t their fault, so why should they suffer the consequences? Also, warning them to keep their home life, including yours, private from your spouse is, in essence, putting them in the middle by making them take “sides” to protect your privacy. Instead, consider two options. First, if you haven’t already done so, talk to your children about the pit-falls of social media, concerns for privacy, “over-sharing” on social media, and how social media impacts their young lives. Second, if they struggling with the divorce or their relationship with either parent, arrange for your children to visit with a counselor. Also, ask the counselor to reinforce general concerns (not just about the divorce) about what they share on social media. In other words, instead of letting your children vent their feelings online, give them a constructive outlet, through therapy, to express and work through their feelings about your divorce.