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Divorce in the time of social media

The simplest advice I can give you about posting to online media during divorce proceedings is this: Don’t.

Of course, that may be easier said than done. If we routinely use social media to connect with friends and family, reaching out online when we need their support seems natural. Sometimes, though, we post without considering the consequences, without remembering that what we tweet or post is essentially a message to the world. And that what we communicate electronically “can and will be used against us in a court of law.”

In a survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 81% of its divorce attorney members reported an increase in the use of evidence from social media sites over the past five years. Facebook was cited as the primary source of such evidence by 66% of AAML respondents.

A wealth of information is readily available in online activity: state of mind, where a person was at a given date and time, association with a particular person, contradiction of statements made in court, and more. Photographs of new purchases or trips can used in spousal maintenance or child support cases as evidence of dishonesty about financial assets. Even comments and pictures from parties or social events can be evidence of poor parenting skills or instability in child custody cases.

While the best strategy for avoiding problems is to avoid social networks during your divorce, here are a few ways to protect yourself if you can’t stand the thought of staying offline.

  • Check your privacy settings to keep casual viewers away from your profile. Remember, though, that many courts have granted divorcing parties full access to their spouse’s social networks and email — including private and deleted information.
  • Change your passwords — even if you think your ex doesn’t know them.
  • Assume that everything you post — and have posted previously— will be entered into evidence in your divorce case.
  • Don’t text, post, or email when you’re angry. Venting can be taken out of context and used disparagingly.
  • Avoid flirtatious chatting, “drunk texting,” and posting pictures that could be interpreted as inappropriate behavior. Disable the tag function in your settings to keep your name off of photos others may post.
  • “Unfriend” your ex and mutual friends to prevent possible problems. After the divorce, you can assess which online relationships you want to restore.
  • Ask friends to talk with you directly about your divorce and refrain from online questions or comments.
  • Resist the temptation to go back and “clean up” past posts, as this can be construed as tampering with evidence. Consult your divorce attorney if you think damaging material is online already.

Above all, remember: This, too, will pass. Restricting your online presence to protect your interests is worth the temporary inconvenience. And who knows? You may enjoy the break from your online world.