Social media surrounds almost all of us. Statistically speaking, over 70% of you reading this article are probably social media users, whether you utilize Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, MySpace, Google Plus, various dating websites, a combination of several of these, or numerous others. In this digital age where cell phones and tablet devices are so common place in everyday living, most with photo and video capturing capabilities, personal privacy has been extremely constricted, voluntarily or not.
Opinions may differ on whether this change is for better or worse. On one hand, social media allows large forums for people to express their opinions, share experiences, and otherwise delve into the primarily unfettered exchange of information. Legally speaking, however, social media is not without its consequences.
Perhaps no better example of the dark side of social media is when it comes to couples breaking up, getting divorced, or those who have already divorced but of whom share mutual children. Unfortunately, most people going through these life-changing events do not see the dangers of social media until it is too late.
Make no mistake, in a contentious divorce, your words and actions may be scrutinized. Placing words into printable text on Twitter or posting pictures on Facebook may follow you into the courtroom, and can have severe legal ramifications.
Anyone who is going through a divorce or is involved in any other family litigation, should altogether refrain from denigrating the other party on any social media, abstain from posting pictures or videos that are sexually explicit, show binge drinking, doing drugs, or exposing the children to same.
An angry spouse may attempt to utilize an otherwise innocent post against the other party. For example, in an acrimonious divorce where the wife is alleging that husband engages in severe alcohol abuse, wife brings forth photos husband was “tagged” in on Facebook from a recent barbeque where husband is shown holding alcoholic beverages. The fact that the husband engages in alcohol abuse may ultimately be refuted, but the picture and wife’s allegations could cost the husband a temporary suspension of his parenting time with the children, potentially expensive alcohol evaluations, and increased legal fees to dispel the damage.
You can prevent these additional issues with careful planning and responsible caution. Set privacy levels high. It is not uncommon to believe that your spouse does not have access to your information, but you may have mutual friends who do. Be cautious. Err on the side of caution and purposefully refrain from posting anything online that someone would not want shown to the judge deciding your future and the future of your children.
Once litigation begins, however, it may be too late. The law prevents what is called “spoliation of evidence,” meaning deleting or destroying evidence. In the context of family law, a person’s ideals, opinions, and actions all may be considered relevant evidence and may be highly scrutinized by a Court trying to determine the issues at hand, especially when the custody of children is contested. Accordingly, it is likely that you would be prevented from legally deleting your social media posts or accounts if during litigation or if your purpose is to prevent your spouse from obtaining that information.
Be forewarned: divorce and non-divorce actions involving children will likely result in more scrutiny of your social media presence than you will be comfortable with. Maintain your social media presence appropriately, because you never know how that presence could affect your legal issues.
As with all blogs on this site, none of the above represents legal advice. If you find yourself involved in litigation and encounter any of these issues, I strongly advise you to consult with experienced legal counsel.