The interplay of social media and family law disputes

Social media has been called both a blessing and a curse. On the plus side, it gives us a forum to express ideas, seek advice, reconnect with friends and keep in touch with loved ones. Negatives include the tendency to post comments without thinking, the lack of control over things (like pictures) posted by other people and the difficulty "erasing" things said in anger or even innocent statements/situations that could be misconstrued.

Never has the dual nature of social media been more apparent than in the family law context. Social networks like those on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest and Friendster are ideal for letting us connect across the miles, but they can also provide a way for divorcing couples - or parents engaged in a contested custody or child support dispute - to keep proverbial tabs on the other. Family courts around the country have seen a sharp uptick in the volume of social media-derived evidence (in the form of photographs, location "check-ins," friend lists, status updates and "tags" from another person) being presented in divorce, child custody, spousal support and child support cases.

Divorce in a digital age

Divorce cases these days are filled with social media evidence. Whereas before the advent of computers and the internet, evidence was tedious and hard to gather, sometimes involving hiring private investigators, interviewing numerous related parties or digging through copious records, nowadays everything from a Facebook rant about a former spouse to an update posted by a child caught in the middle of a nasty divorce can be easily obtained and passed along to a family court judge.

Custody and support issues

Social media evidence not only appears in divorce cases, it is also becoming increasingly common in disputed child custody, child support and spousal support (alimony) cases. Even innocuous activities - like attending a work-sponsored happy hour, for example - could have a negative spin, allowing the other parent to suggest that there are substance abuse issues, that the best interests of your children are taking a backseat to your job, or that spousal support isn't really needed if you have enough disposable income to go out for a drink with colleagues.

One frustration-fueled rant about your spouse or how your divorce is proceeding, even if you rethink things and delete it minutes later, could potentially come back to haunt you. The simple fact that things posted on the internet never really "disappear" has led many legal experts around the nation to suggest drastic social media measures while contested divorce or custody cases are being heard, including:

  • Changing passwords
  • Revising friend lists
  • Modifying "privacy" settings
  • Avoiding posting pictures or statements that could be interpreted negatively
  • Establishing new social media accounts if preexisting ones were jointly held between you and your spouse
  • Taking a temporary hiatus from all social networking

No matter what kind of family-related dispute you are involved in, it is important to remember that your online presence could be scrutinized by the court. If you are going through a difficult divorce, child custody, child support or alimony case, seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney in your area to learn how social media and other types of evidence can affect you.