A study published in the July issue of the journal Computers in Human Behavior links social media use to divorce. Researchers found that social network sites had a positive correlation to “thinking about divorce” and a negative correlation to “marriage quality and happiness.” This doesn’t surprise Connatser Family Law founder and Texas divorce attorney Aubrey Connatser, who sees social media activity used as evidence in the majority of divorce cases her firm handles today.
“People are amazingly open and honest on social media sites. Even though these sites are public, there is a feeling of the same privacy you have in your own home, posting on your iPad or computer, as if you are in your own little world. People forget that anyone in the world can see what they say and do on social media sites, and that it becomes part of their permanent digital footprint,” Aubrey says.
What You Post, Like and Tweet Can Be Held Against You in Divorce Court
Many people don’t realize that their personal lives become part of the public record when they share things on social media. If you are contemplating divorce, you need to know that what you (and your spouse) say and do on social media – post, repost, tweet, like, comment, friend, follow – can be used to help or hurt you in a divorce or custody case.
“Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother or a judge to see.”
“We believe it’s very important to maintain your privacy and dignity during the divorce process, especially when it involves your children. That’s tough to do when you put private things in the public forum,” Aubrey says.
It’s critical for clients to know what they can and cannot do when it comes to social media. Aubrey cautions, “What you don’t know can hurt you, especially in litigation. I’m a huge proponent of meeting with clients – potentially well in advance of filing for divorce or modification – so they can be prepared and know what to expect.”
“For example, a lot of people don’t know that taking down a Facebook (or other social media) page may amount to destruction of evidence in a lawsuit, and doing so could result in serious consequences. That’s what we’re here for – to help advise and educate you prior to filing for divorce, so you don’t do anything that could hurt your case,” she adds.
If you’re thinking about getting divorced, Aubrey recommends that you:
1. Don’t share anything you wouldn’t want a judge or your grandmother to see. If it’s out there, opposing counsel will usually find it. Just don’t’ say, share or do anything your grandmother wouldn’t be exceedingly proud of.
2. Live your life as if cameras are constantly following you around and taping what you’re doing at all times. Social media provides a direct window into your private world. Only post positive, truthful thoughts and photos, or unplug completely (highly recommended).
3. Assume everything you do online will be found. It can be found by opposing counsel, your soon-to-be-ex or their friends and family and will be used against you. This also applies to phone and text records, emails, dating sites and more.
4. If you’re debating whether or not it’s a good idea to share, comment or like something on social media, just don’t do it. Really, just don’t.
5. Don’t ever lie to a judge. If opposing counsel can prove you lied once (whether it’s pertaining to social media or not), the judge will likely assume everything you say is a lie. He or she can also hold you in contempt or have you prosecuted for perjury.
6. Don’t lie or misrepresent yourself to your divorce lawyer, either. It will be much more difficult to help you win your divorce and/or child custody case if you do.
7. If you’ve filed for divorce or your spouse has filed, don’t assume you can remove any of your social media history without potential legal consequences. Again, ask your attorney what you can and cannot do.
8. Don’t think you can fake “nice.” If you stage a photo of you at your kid’s soccer game and a witness testifies that you snapped the photo and left 30 seconds later, your credibility as an involved, attentive parent in a custody or divorce case is sunk (see Nos. 5 and 6).
“At the end of the day, litigation is about the credibility of people who testify.”
9. Don’t underestimate the power of social media evidence in the courtroom. Judges and juries are intrigued by social media evidence and they consider it just as persuasive as other evidence – sometimes more so. A post may be worth a thousand words.
10. Don’t assume you know what you can and cannot do on social media. Speak with an experienced family law firm or divorce attorney in Texas or the state where you reside. He or she can counsel you on social media and divorce as it pertains to your specific case.
“What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You”
When it comes to social media and divorce, Aubrey says, “You can’t always prove or disprove certain things with social media evidence. It’s not the only evidence, its a piece of evidence that can certainly hurt or help your case, but it’s just a piece of a larger puzzle.”
And what is the No. 1 piece of advice Aubrey shares with people contemplating a divorce? “At the end of the day, just always remember, what you don’t know can hurt you. If you’re contemplating a divorce, speak with an experienced divorce attorney who can counsel you on your options, preferably before you (or your spouse) file.”