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).
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.)
This article explores the use of social media platforms like Facebook, how they can impact a couple's decision to divorce, and how they can be used for discovery in the divorce process.
What May Be Found on Facebook and Other Platforms
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 don't 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.
Similarly, information about a side business on the professional networking site Linkedin could be used in discovery when determining income if previously undisclosed to your spouse. Meanwhile, information shared on dating sites could be used as evidence of infidelity. And regardless of the nature of a given social networking site, they all can be used to triangulate your whereabouts or habits to varying degrees.
Facebook and Divorce: Legal Issues
Legal issues concerning the use of Facebook data in divorce proceedings varies. For instance, adultery is still grounds for divorce in some states. New York law defines adultery 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
Before you upload that picture or comment, it's important to keep a few things in mind. Here's a list of tips to help you avoid a Facebook 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.
Facebook, Divorce, and Your Options: Consider Getting Legal Help
Even the most amicable divorce can be a profoundly stressful experience -- especially in this age of social media and the unenviable "Facebook divorce." A knowledgeable divorce attorney can safely guide you through the process to ensure your financial security and peace of mind.