According to a 2018 Pew Research Study, 68% of adults that are online engage in the use of social media and networking sites, many on a daily basis. For some, checking social media is the first thing they do every morning when they wake up, and something they do a dozen more times throughout the day.
The Popularity of Social Media
Social media has quickly become a platform for adults to share their lives, activities, events, travels, and day-to-day experiences with family and friends at all hours of the day and night. We can simply log on and instantly connect with hundreds or thousands of other users in the social media world. When something happens in our lives, we are quick to jump on social media and share our latest “news,” and then wait for the instant gratification of “likes” and “loves” to come rolling in from our extended network of social media “friends.” We feel loved. Accomplished. Well-liked. And for some—less alone. We seek this attention.
For individuals going through a divorce, the social media world can be a sounding board to receive support from our friends, get advice on what to do, or simply vent about what a jerk our ex is. We love to post first and ask questions later.
The Dangers of Social Media
As an attorney practicing marital and family law, what my client (or the opposing party) shares on social media platforms can easily be used against them for purposes of alimony, child support, timesharing and parental decision-making. Simply put—social media has quickly become a treasure trove of evidence in the cases that I handle every day. It is quite often a powerful tool for investigating the other party during a contentious divorce or paternity proceeding, often giving us a “window” into the other party’s daily activities, choices, positions and attitudes.
The greatest problem with social media is that everything can be taken out of context.
Think about how you might go out for a night with your girlfriends to celebrate someone’s promotion. You leave your child at home with a babysitter, and your friend posts a few innocent pictures of everyone out celebrating with the group. Next thing you know, your husband’s attorney is throwing these printed pictures in front of you at a deposition, claiming that you are an alcoholic, an irresponsible parent, and an unfit mother.
Or picture this for a moment: you fly out to Vegas for your friend’s bachelor party and post pictures of you popping bottles of expensive liquor in a private room at the club with your buddies, all showing off your brand new watches—meanwhile, you’re claiming you’re broke and can’t pay the court-ordered alimony or child support. Next thing you know, your former wife’s attorney is waving these pictures in front of the judge at the contempt hearing, setting the stage for the judge to find that you obviously have the ability to pay the money requested to your former wife.
Or think about how you may decide to blow off your deposition on a Friday morning, telling your attorney that you are too sick to show up—but then you decide to share on Instagram how you’re out “brunching with your boys,” complete with the hashtag #FridayVibes. Next thing you know, the opposing attorney is seeking to compel your immediate deposition and asking for sanctions against you for your failure to appear.
Post first, ask questions later…right? WRONG!
Advice for Using Social Media during Legal Proceedings
In one of my first meetings with every new client, it is my general practice to discuss the use of social media, the other party’s use of social media, and how my client should conduct him or herself on social media platforms while we are involved in the court system. While some of my colleagues who practice marital and family law may actually recommend immediately “unfriending” your spouse from all social media platforms during a divorce, I personally recommend that my clients stay friends with their spouse during proceedings so we can monitor what is being shared and posted by the other side—so long as my client is abiding by proper attorney-approved social media guidelines themselves.
- As a good-practice tip, I always recommend that my clients take screen shots of posts shared on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. by their spouse to preserve the evidence as it occurs.
- I also recommend that my client immediately stop posting on social media altogether. No Facebook posts. No pictures. No tweets. Not even a retweet. Nothing! I advise my clients to simply go “radio silent.”
- Another recommendation for my clients is to double-check their privacy settings on all social media sites to ensure that they cannot be tagged unknowingly in any picture or post made by their friends or family.
- I advise my clients that if you feel you must share something on social media, you should assume that anything you post will be viewed by the judge, and has the potential to be used against you in one way or another. Another option is to check with me first before you post.
- Finally, if you need to talk to your friends, family, colleagues, or long-lost acquaintances—remember that you pick up the phone and have an old-fashioned telephone call instead of blasting messages back and forth on social media to each other.
Protect yourself and your divorce or paternity case by remembering: if in doubt, DO NOT POST.
Legal proceedings can be difficult enough without the additional or surprise complications that social media can generate. Try to keep these tips in mind if you find yourself in any complicated scenario and always discuss and consult with your lawyer to be on the safe side.
Caryn is an associate at Ward Damon and focuses her practice exclusively in the areas of marital & family law. She has assisted thousands of children, families and couples through difficult circumstances and life changes, and offers a wealth of experience that allows her to bring a unique and compassionate perspective to her clients. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (561) 922-6247.