Social networking sites allow users to connect with old friends and make new ones, but they also could put you in a compromising position in a divorce or child custody battle. Divorce lawyers frequently use social networking sites to “discover” information they might not find using traditional methods of discovery (the process of gathering evidence and information preceding a trial).
Your Social Media Accounts Are Subject To Review
All of this is perfectly legal. According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), texts, e-mails, call histories, information from Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and internet search histories have also been used to reveal a divorcing party’s secrets.
In 2019, the AAML published a study that showed that 70% of the evidence obtained in marital splits is from Facebook, Twitter, and other apps. The academy also found that the use of information from smartphones and other wireless devices increased by 97% since 2012, and the use of text messages as evidence increased by 99%.
People often believe their online activity is private and that it does not carry the same consequences as similar behavior in real life, but online flirting can be viewed the same as flirting in a bar.
Social media profiles can reveal a person’s state of mind, evidence of communication, or evidence of action. Social media and electronic devices can also be used to help prove infidelity, mishandling of assets and to show a person’s location at a certain time.
Recent court cases concerning social networking sites have held that divorcing parties can be ordered to turn over passwords, user names, and logins and that divorcing parties may be granted full access to Facebook and similar sites, including access to private and deleted data. There is also “no reasonable expectation of privacy” in Facebook, a Pennsylvania Common Pleas Court has ruled.
Examples of Damaging Social Media Posts
Here are just a few examples of how social media content can cause repercussions:
- You post information about high-end purchases, trips, etc., on Facebook but claim you are unemployed or have money issues.
- You post whereabouts that conflict with a “business trip” you have said you are on, and your friend posts something on her wall about a crazy weekend you spent together when you are supposed to spend quality time with your children.
- A friend “tags” a compromising photo of you drinking at a party when you claim you have no time to see your children and you have disputed claims of infidelity.
- You post your status as “single, no children, looking” when you have children and are still married.
- You post your daily activity, saying you “played a round of golf and ‘chilled’ by the pool the rest of the day with a six-pack of beer.” This does not make you sound like a responsible father looking for work. Your associates may also be scrutinized when child custody is at stake.
- Your child care agreements limit how far you can travel with the kids, but you go to Disneyland with the children without the ex’s permission. You post pictures telling your friends the kids’ father can’t stop you from going where you want.
- Social media sites can expose job-seeking data, drug or alcohol abuse, and questionable contacts, which may lead the court to inquire whether the parent is fit to have custody. Even excessive online use could be brought up in court to imply a parent is using social media so often that the child (children) is being neglected. Sometimes photos or information alone is not enough to indict someone’s behavior, but information combined with other forms of proof may be enough to provide damning evidence. Even if the information is deleted, experts can retrieve it as every electronic communication leaves a digital trail. Anything you post on the internet is public information that others can retrieve and use against you.
Deleting Social Media Account Activity
Trying to clean up your act after the fact by having a friend go into your account and delete or edit online entries is not recommended. According to Forbes magazine, a Connecticut woman did this after a judge ordered her and her spouse to exchange log-in information for their Facebook, Match, and EHarmony accounts. The husband had found some possibly incriminating information on a computer the couple shared that led him to believe his wife may not be a good candidate for full custody of the children. He had asked his attorney to help him get information from social media. The judge served the woman with an injunction and ordered her to stop deleting information from her social media accounts.
If spousal support is at issue, the spouse seeking support can learn much about the other party’s financial situation through social media. Did he buy a new vehicle, or is he looking at a property? The payor spouse might check into the relationship status of the former spouse. Does it indicate a third party is now responsible for maintenance and support? And what about that third party? Is there evidence of infidelity?
In many states, adultery is not grounds for divorce, but in Ohio, adultery is a basis for divorce. However, marital transgressions are not generally considered in determining alimony or property division.
Facebook was used in one unusual divorce case last year in Brooklyn, N.Y. when a judge permitted a woman to serve her husband with divorce papers via the social media site. The husband refused to make himself available to be served and his wife had no way of officially becoming single. He had left four years earlier and only communicated with his spouse via Facebook or by calling her on his prepaid cell phone. She did not know where he lived; the post office, cell phone company, and the Department of Motor Vehicles had no address for the elusive husband.
Ohio divorce laws can be complex, and you may need an experienced Canton divorce lawyer to help you sort out your rights, especially those involving custody issues. Financial arrangements will also have to be made, your spouse’s net worth will have to be determined, and other details must be resolved to ensure you will get a fair settlement. After all the papers are signed is not the time to discover that you will have difficulty making ends meet in the future because your divorce agreement is not equitable.
If you are planning for a divorce or have been served divorce papers, please call us for a free consultation to discuss your case with an experienced Cleveland divorce attorney. We make ourselves available at all times, including weekends, evenings, and holidays.