Information found on popular social networking sites has given divorce lawyers new tools in their divorce toolkits. Find out how Facebook and other sites are changing the legal landscape in divorce and child custody cases, and what you can do to protect yourself in the event of a Facebook divorce.
The term "Facebook divorce" refers to the increasing number of marital breakdowns that have occurred as a result of information found or discovered on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. While social networking sites allow users to connect with old and new friends, they also create circumstances that may lead to a divorce or child custody battle. Moreover, social networking sites allow divorce lawyers to discover information they might not otherwise find using traditional methods of "discovery" (the process used to gather supporting facts and information in a case.)
In the recent past, the number of divorce lawyers who use Facebook and other social networking sites to uncover potentially damning evidence has grown. According to a 2010 survey by the American Association of Matrimony Lawyers (AAML), two-thirds of American lawyers say Facebook is the primary source of evidence used in divorce cases.
While there are no specific laws concerning the use of Facebook in divorce proceedings, the existing rules of evidence support the use of alternate forms of media to gather evidence, and this may include information found on social networking sites (via email, cell phone, or computer data retrieval, for example.)
What May Be Found on Facebook
There are several bits of divorce-related evidence that can be found on Facebook. Generally, a person's overall history and whereabouts are just a mouse click away from public eyes - despite Facebook's privacy settings (which are not always reliable.)
Furthermore, people often mistakenly believe that their actions online do not carry the same consequences as real-life events. For example, they may believe that online flirting is not the same as flirting in a bar. The reality, however, proves that what a person says or does online can have serious repercussions in a divorce or child custody case.
Below are examples of damning evidence that may be found on social networking sites, which may potentially be used against you in a "Facebook divorce" situation.
- A friend "tags" a compromising photo of you drinking beer at a party or vacationing when you claim you have no time to see your children or dispute allegations of infidelity
- Posts that refer to high-end purchases when you claim unemployment and money issues
- Posts about your whereabouts that conflict with business trips or child visitation matters
- Posts that suggests infidelity or deception, such as a Facebook status change to "single, but looking"
Keep in mind that even if content on Facebook is deleted, it can later be retrieved by forensic experts and potentially used in court as evidence in divorce proceedings.
Legal issues concerning the use of Facebook data in divorce proceedings varies. For instance, adultery is grounds for divorce in many states and is defined in state laws as "the voluntary sexual intercourse of a married person with a person other than the offender's spouse. In most adultery cases, direct proof is not required - based on the mere nature of secretive relationships. Adultery in a Facebook divorce situation, however, might be inferred through photos and information posted on Facebook.
Note that while evidence-worthy photos and information exchanged on Facebook on their own may not be grounds for divorce, but information combined with other forms of proof may create an undesirable outcome.
Tips for Facebook Users Facing a Divorce
- Be careful what you post on Facebook.
- Know that what you say or post may be used against you in court, and divorce lawyers use Facebook as a matter of fact 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 not post certain photos and information on your Facebook page, other friends and family members may post something potentially damaging about you on their Facebook page.
- Do no secretly access your spouse's Facebook page hoping to find damaging information to use against him or her. Not only is it a violation of the law to access someone's computer or electronic device you do not have permission to use, the information you may find may be inadmissible in court.
- Finally, if you suspect adultery or other wrongdoing by your spouse found on Facebook, you may wish to hire a divorce lawyer in your area who can help answer any specific questions you may have.