Social media often plays a role in divorce. It may be that someone finds that their spouse has been unfaithful through pictures on Facebook, leading to divorce. Or maybe ‘hidden assets’ become ‘unhidden’ with an Instagram shot, meaning that your financial settlement becomes much more evenly split. How might social media be used in your favour or used against you?
There are 7.4 billion people in the world today. Of those 7.4 billion it is estimated that about 2 billion are smartphone users. Most people with smartphones are tapped into some form of social media, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or LinkedIn – just to name a few. It’s common for those users to share pictures of their pets, children, food and experiences. It’s also used to seek advice, find old friends and vent their frustrations.
The problem with these kinds of sites and other information we put online is that it becomes a goldmine to be used either for, or more often than not, against us. People’s need to overshare online gets them into a great deal of strife. The information can be used to help build a case or it can be used to challenge one. It only takes one casual status update, Tweet or photo posted to recognise that someone may not be who you think they are or doing something that they shouldn’t be. Joseph Cordell, a family law specialist from Cordell & Cordell, says that “We find it’s usually the seemingly innocuous posts that cause big problems in divorce cases. People will post pictures to show their friends their new set of golf clubs, the car they just bought, or how much they’re enjoying the Jamaican resort’s all-inclusive daiquiris. But they don’t realize how those pictures can come back to haunt them when they claim they can’t possibly afford to pay a certain level of child support. One of our clients was immediately given temporary custody by the guardian ad litem after we pulled up the child’s mother’s MySpace page filled with lewd and crude images and postings. We had one case where the father, who was completely shut out of his child’s life, was paying child support to the mother, who had sole physical custody of their son. Turns out the child had moved out of state months ago and the mother was still collecting payments. The father never would have known except his son posted on Facebook how much he liked living in his new state.”
What evidence can be found and used to build your case or against you? The ‘information’ that anyone posts on social media and through email and texting can be used against them in court. ‘Public’ profiles are open to anyone with internet access, but even what we think is private can be acquired by the law in certain circumstances. According to the Australian Federal Police, everything you type in a text or an email can be accessed by authorities if your phone company or ISP has kept the records. The AFP requires the approval of a judge or a telecommunications warrant to access the records and many providers keep records from when you started the account. What we think is private, may not be so.
Social media may impact divorce cases in a few different ways.
Dating sites are one of those ways. Creating a profile before your divorce is finalised may land you in hot water – especially depending on how you present yourself.
Email and text messages can be used in court. Something that one spouse reveals about their financial situation may be used as evidence that they’re not being forthcoming about their true financial position.
Finances can be revealed through social media posting, even though someone doesn’t believe they’re being explicit. Ben Carrasco, a divorce attorney in Austin, Texas, reports once using a LinkedIn profile to show the existence of a side business (another source of income) that a party had not disclosed in discovery. This information helped his client secure more child support than she would have otherwise received. “It’s amazing the wealth of information now at our fingertips in a divorce case” says Mr. Carrasco. “What would have once taken weeks of research to discover, if at all, can now be found in the click of a mouse”.
Child custody arrangements can be finalised based on social media posting. If one party says that they are looking for a job, but their social media posts suggest that they are playing video games all day, then a judge is more likely to view that spouse harshly. One parent may have photos posted online that show they were drunk when they were supposed to be looking after children. These kinds of things do not bode well for the divorce.
The best way to protect yourself from social media ruining your divorce case is to stay off social media until after your divorce. Stay away from Facebook, no Tweeting and even make private your Spotify session – it’s just not worth the risk.
If you must be socially present online then here are some tips for during your divorce:
- make sure you have strong passwords and change your username if your spouse might know it
- check your privacy settings on all your social media accounts
- try and stay ‘offline’ before or after mediation or court – this is often when you’ll say or post something you’ll regret.
- avoid making new e-friends or adding followers you don’t know very well.
- change your settings so that friends can’t ‘tag’ you in photos which may be used against you.
Another suggestion is to google yourself. Check your online reputation. A vindictive spouse may try to get back at you online. Ted Scott, of Verity Digital Forensics, is used to recovering electronic evidence. “You need to be aware of what’s going on in the online world as it relates to you,” Scott warned. “We had a case where a vindictive spouse posted compromising pictures on various porn sites of his now ex-wife.” If you don’t know about it, you can’t do anything about it.
Victoria made it a criminal offence to maliciously distribute intimate images without the person’s consent in August last year. Offenders can face up to two years imprisonment for distributing images and up to a year for threatening to distribute images.
Nationally, people can be charged with ‘using a carriage service to cause offence or to harass or menace another person’ under Commonwealth telecommunications legislation.
But in Queensland, there are no specific laws relating to this type of act.
To speak to one of our experienced family lawyers then please contact us today. We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation.