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Social Media and Divorce
In recent years social media has become a way of life to the point that nothing is official until it is “Facebook official.” Updating Facebook statuses and tweeting has become part of the daily routine for many people. While these practices can make it easier than ever to remain in constant contact with friends and loved ones they can also have adverse effects. For example celebrity tweets have led to celebrity stalkers. By letting people know where you are and what you are doing all day, you are enabling people to break down your privacy. Not only have celebrities gotten in trouble for their social media, but normal people have been too. Many people have been fired from their jobs for calling in sick and then updating their Facebook and twitter saying they are playing hooky. Many aspects of people’s lives can be affected by social media; including their divorce and subsequent proceedings.
Social media may not only be dangerous during a divorce, it can also affect your marriage. Oxford University psychologists found that using many different channels to communicate - Facebook, tweets, texts and instant messages - resulted in a drop in average relationship satisfaction. The findings suggest that the overuse of social media can be bad for a relationship in general. According the American Bar Association, “approximately 59% of all Internet users use at least one social networking service. Here in the U.S., Americans spend over 20% of their online time on social networks and blogs.” (ABA)
Family law attorneys have noted that more divorce cases involve social media evidence. Data released by the American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers indicates that social media evidence played a role in 81 percent of divorce cases. Here are some steps to take DURING a divorce.
Take These Steps during Divorce Proceedings
First, you need to set up a new email account to communicate only with your new attorney. Do not communicate with your attorney on a company email or shared email account, as this could waive your attorney-client privilege.
It is best to close all social media accounts as soon as possible and hopefully before litigation begins. As a lay person you may not realize how information can be distorted. It is far better to release information through your attorney whether informally or through the formal discovery process.
Do not install any keystroke or monitoring software on any computers. Do not place tracking devices on anyone’s car or person. Your attorney will discuss vehicle title with you and the possibility of legally placing a tracking device on a vehicle.
Identify all computers, tablets, and smart phones used by you and your spouse. Discuss turning over these devices to your attorney for forensic evaluation, especially those that are privately owned. And make sure to identify which, if any of these devices, are owned by a company or other third party.
Let your attorney know immediately of any shared passwords or known passwords used by your spouse. Change passwords in consultation with your attorney. Based on ownership of computers and knowledge of passwords your attorney should know whether these electronic devices can be evaluated immediately or if you will need to request permission from the court (Huffington Post).
Here are some general rules to follow when using social media AFTER a separation.
Assume a Judge Will See Everything You Share on Social Media
Be aware of privacy settings. Consider who can view what you write. On Facebook, depending on your privacy settings, what you post may be open for all internet users to view. You may unfriend a spouse after you separate, but if you have friends in common comments and pictures may still be visible to your spouse.
Cellphones are now as much camera as phone with easy uploads to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Tagging allows pictures you did not even take to wind up on your profiles. A photo from a wild night out might be damaging to a request for child custody. The basic rule is to really increase the privacy of your profile.
Monitor your privacy settings. Privacy and security settings are constantly changing on social media websites and you need to check them frequently. You should make sure you are using the most secure settings so you can limit who has access to what information on your page.
Never share any attorney-client communications. Your status update or tweet should never include the words “my attorney said.” Not only is it poor judgment to share the legal advice you receive with others, you could potentially be waiving attorney-client privilege by sharing this information with the world. (ABA)
Divorce is emotionally charged and it is normal to feel a wide range of emotions. After receiving a divorce petition, the first emotion might be anger. Write an email or post to let off steam, but do not send or post it. Wait a day and then review what you wrote and decide whether it is wise to send. Generally, it is best to not post anything regarding your divorce or child custody issues.
In some cases, it may be beneficial to stay off all your social media accounts until you have finalized a divorce agreement. While some may wonder where you are at, you can fill in closer friends and family via a phone call.
Avoid Stalking at All Costs
Stalking your ex online can seriously slow the healing process. A Brunel University study found that the more time you spend on your ex's Facebook page post-split, the more psychological distress you will experience and the harder time you'll have moving on. Facebook stalking was also correlated with a greater desire for one's ex.
The number-one way to avoid social media stress during your divorce is to do whatever you have to do to avoid stalking your ex, whether it's simply blocking him or her from your newsfeed, unfriending, or taking a temporary break from Facebook. (Huffington Post)
Use Social Media to Connect Offline
When you're going through a divorce, what you really need is your friends -- and no, not just your Facebook friends. Use social media in healthy ways by coordinating meet-ups with close friends and fun activities with acquaintances to keep you busy and active, and make sure that you're surrounded by a strong support system.
"If you can’t resist a regular appearance on Facebook, make a conscious effort to connect with other friends," psychologist Pamela Routledge, PhD, advised Psychology Today. "Use other social media tools to engage in activities and interactions with new friends." (ABA)
The use of social media has grown at an astounding rate in a short period of time. Given its increasing prominence in almost every aspect of people's lives and the way business is conducted, social media provides a wealth of information that the legal community cannot afford to overlook. “Despite the ease of use and functionality that makes social media so appealing to its users, it creates a myriad of complex legal and technical issues that will undoubtedly have a significant impact on litigation and the discovery processes as litigants increasingly seek to discover such information and courts are forced to deal with the novel issues that arise.” (ABA) Therefore it is generally best to not use social media during a divorce and be very careful of how you use it after a judgment has been made.
For any questions on divorce or social media use during a divorce, please contact The Law Office of Matthew J. Rudy for a free 1-Hour Consultation.