Although many people spend a significant amount of time on Facebook and other social media sites, they might not anticipate that rants toward a spouse, disparaging comments toward a co-parent or a romantic message to a paramour can become “Exhibit 1” during a divorce. The broad spectrum of information, photos and correspondence associated with the typical Facebook page can provide information relevant to child custody disputes, property distribution, spousal support and other issues.
For those who wonder whether the information they put on their social media pages will actually be used in their divorce or other family law case, a 2011 ABC News Report found that a third of all new divorce filings contained the word “Facebook.” The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers also reports that 80 percent of its member attorneys indicate that the use of social network information is on the rise in divorce proceedings. Because the use of social media sites like Facebooks, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and other sites continues to rise, the possibility that information or pictures on your social media pages will be used against you is substantial.
The best practice for divorcing parties is to avoid using social media pages because even “private” information is not really private. Courts in a growing number of states are ordering marital partners to provide login information for the private areas of social media sites. This means that even instant messages and other information that is only disclosed to a small group of people might become available to your spouse during a divorce. This trend by judges in marital dissolutions means that you should not post anything on your social media website that you would not be comfortable sending directly to your spouse in the midst of a contentious divorce.
Some parties to divorces assume that they can continue posting information on their Facebook page and simply delete embarrassing or compromising information later. Unfortunately, this approach can backfire in a big way. If you delete information from your social media site after a judge has ordered you to provide login information to the social media page, the court may impose sanctions. These sanctions can include forcing you to pay some portion of your spouse’s attorney fees. In some cases, the court can impose even more significant sanctions by presuming that the information that was destroyed would have be favorable to your spouse or by precluding your ability to present evidence on a particular issue. The bottom line is that you should not destroy social media information after being ordered to provide access to your spouse.
Another approach some people take is to attempt to exercise caution in terms of the information that they post on their social media sites. However, this approach also is risky because subtle information can have unanticipated value to your spouse during a divorce. For example, the mention of an activity during a vacation or a raise at work may be relevant to child support, alimony or property distribution issues. Similarly, information about your child’s struggles in school might result in the other parent filing a motion to modify custody.
The best practice if you are involved in a divorce, paternity action or other family law matter is to deactivate your social media account prior to it becoming an issue in your divorce. Parties to family law cases are best served by not reactivating such accounts until their case has been resolved. However, you also might want to keep in mind that the information posted on a social media site after a judgment might be used to show a “material change in circumstances” justifying a modification of the orders in the judgment.
If you have questions about divorce or other family law matters, we welcome the opportunity to talk to you and answer your questions. We invite you to call the Weber Law Office at (316) 265-7802 or to submit an inquiry form through this website to schedule your initial consultation.