In a recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), social media is cited as the primary source of evidence used in divorces. Facebook is credited by 66% of survey respondents with being the primary source, while 15% cite MySpace, 5% name Twitter and 14% mention other social media choices.1 This evidence may be a selfie that can be used to imply infidelity with a new partner. Or negative comments about a spouse suggesting bitterness and a desire for revenge. Or even a seemingly innocuous description of a vacation, new purchase or attendance at an event that can be misconstrued as inappropriate and/or financially wasteful.
What’s more, illicit relationships, or the desire for one, are often discovered by one spouse checking another’s social media posts. That’s why Facebook has been credited as a contributing cause of one out of five American divorces. Aside from revealing an affair, posts can also disclose neglect of a child, disrespect toward other relatives and even excessive expenditures from family funds.
Marlene Eskind Moses, president of the AAML, explains, “If you publicly post any contradictions to previously made statements and promises, an estranged spouse will certainly be one of the first people to notice and make use of that evidence.” 2
Still, many people depend on their social media contacts for information and emotional support, especially when going through a stressful situation like a divorce. How can you maintain these connections without putting yourself in legal jeopardy?
First, understand that online communications are hard to control. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what’s posted online is a different story. You can delete a post on your own Facebook page, but you can’t delete comments you’ve made on someone else’s page. If your Facebook friend wants to keep your comments and share your posts, those comments could be in cyberspace forever.
Therefore, the safest thing to do is to treat your posts and tweets – whether they’re on your own page or someone else’s – as if they’re public statements that can be viewed by the entire world. Even if your circle of Facebook friends is small, those friends may share your posts with their friends and so on. Once something is posted, you have little-to-no control over who sees it, how they’ll react to it and who they may share it with.
Posted comments can be manipulated and taken out of context. If you’re prone to irony and satire, please don’t indulge your sense of humor online until after the divorce decree. Remember: what you post in fun could be taken and used against you as a serious comment in court.
Consider who you’re communicating with and why. Do you post to stay in touch with family members and friends? Or to vent to a select group who you feel will understand you? Or to share your experiences and views with like-minded people you know only through online exchanges? All of these groups and situations can prove problematic if you’re going through a contentious divorce. Try to find other ways to stay in touch, vent your feelings and build a supportive network offline.
For example, try communicating to family members through phone calls and snail mail. Keep in mind that emails, like Facebook posts, can be shared with third parties without your knowledge. Even with the best intentions, a relative or friend may share information you want to keep private. Then that revealing email could be forwarded on without your knowledge and shared with someone who sends it on to your soon-to-be ex-spouse.
Many people going through a divorce find that writing posts about it on Facebook affords them a certain emotional release. If this is how you feel, we urge you to keep a personal and private journal instead. You can write entries out by hand or keep it on your computer desktop. But don’t share it with anyone else until you’re officially single again.
Facebook friends often serve as a support group to get you through difficult times. But when you’re going through the emotional distress of a divorce, a better and safer option would be to join a therapy group that meets face-to-face. What you say to them will stay private and the relationships you build will probably be deeper and more lasting than those developed online.
If you must use Facebook, here are some suggestions that should help you avoid the worst pitfalls that others have experienced.
- Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your children, employer or neighbors to see. This is a good rule for social media at all times but especially when your posts may be scrutinized by your spouse’s attorney.
- If you’re posting about an event, don’t send it for 24 hours. Give yourself a chance to consider the amount of information you’re sharing and what implications it may have. Could your remarks be misconstrued and seen as proof that you’re spending too much money, acting irresponsibly or perhaps being less than a perfect parent? If so, taking some time to review your post and delete any information that might be used against you could prevent a lot of grief.
- Write all your posts out as a word document first and then copy and paste into Facebook. This will give you another chance to avoid awkward or inappropriate language before your post becomes a permanent record of your online communications.
- Treat text messages – especially to your ex and your children – like posts. Text messaging may be part of your phone service, but it can still function as a written document against you. Although a text is going to an individual, it can be viewed and shared by others. So, apply the same guidelines we’ve outlined above for posts.
Follow these best practices for keeping your social media accounts secure:
- Always use separate accounts for personal and professional social media pages. This is a good practice no matter what your marital status, but it’s especially important if an angry spouse may be tempted to damage you professionally via social media.
- Exercise caution when it comes to posting photos on your account. Pictures of vacations, new purchases, social events or those that are work related and selfies of new colleagues could all be used to bolster negative claims against you.
- Be discrete when it comes to accepting new Facebook friends or LinkedIn colleagues. Someone on your LinkedIn page may request Facebook access and vice versa. Until your divorce is final, try to keep your contacts on personal and professional social media separate and be very cautious about accepting new connections to these accounts.
- Limit the personal information you share. Social media pages often ask you to fill out a profile about yourself. This information could be a gold mine for those trying to gain your trust in order to discover even more information that shouldn’t be shared. Don’t give them a head start!
- Review your Social Media privacy settings. Make sure everyone in your personal social media group is someone you know and trust. Limit access to them so they can’t be contacted by new acquaintances and inadvertently reveal information that you wish kept private.
- Create different passwords for each social media account and change them often. Again, this is good advice to follow for all your online accounts.
- Contact the police if you are the victim of Cyberattacks. Cyberstalking is against the law. In Illinois it is defined as using electronic communication at least twice to engage or communicate about someone in a way that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their life or suffer emotional distress. However, if you were to try and charge someone, you would need proof. So, make sure to document everything. Take a picture of the posts and also print them out so they can be documented and tracked.
Social media can be a wonderful way to keep in touch with people and communicate your views. But like most things in life, it has a downside, especially for those going through an emotionally charged experience like divorce. The best course of action may simply be to ignore Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media while you’re still in the process of ending your marriage. Or at least minimize your participation on these platforms as much as possible.