In the heat of a nasty divorce, it may be tempting to let off some steam by trashing your soon-to-be ex-spouse on Facebook or Twitter. You might call him “a deadbeat dad” or her “a drunk.” Sure it felt good in the moment and got a few laughs from your friends, but what will the judge handling your divorce think? Even harmless posts about a boys’ night out or vacation photos may be used against you as social media is playing a starring role in divorce cases throughout the country.
In a 2010 survey of members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 81 percent said they have seen an increase in the use of social-media evidence in divorce cases over the past five years. When divorcing spouses can’t hammer out a settlement agreement, major decisions must be made by the judge. Potentially, a court could determine alimony and the division of assets. When children are in involved, child custody, visitation rights and child-support payments have to be set. The judge’s perception of you as a person, a spouse and a parent can impact many of the court’s decisions.
Think of the Children
In no area is this truer than when the decision involves the children. Any postings showing an abusive attitude toward a spouse or pictures that demonstrate a reckless or questionable lifestyle will raise red flags to a judge deciding what is in the best interest of the children. Moreover, pictures of extravagant vacations or expensive purchases will not play well if you’re claiming near poverty when it comes to your ability to pay spousal or child support, or your need for it.
The unfortunate reality about the Internet and social media is that what only takes a few seconds and keystrokes to create will be around forever. Even if your Facebook settings limit who can view your account, your postings are likely discoverable as evidence by court order. Courts are increasingly reluctant to find that people have privacy rights in postings made either in public forums or to large groups.
Social-media posts about your ex may get you sued for defamation as well. Making comments about your opinion of your spouse like “She’s a lunatic” or “He’s such a jerk” are not wise, but are permissible. However, making factual claims like “He’s a deadbeat dad” or “She’s a drunk,” if untrue, are considered libel. If the party on the receiving end can prove the claims aren’t true, it could lead to a lawsuit. Even if there is no lawsuit, such statements can have negative implications at work and elsewhere. And if you have kids, the person you are criticizing is their other parent.
The key is to remember that as private as your social-media settings may be, it is still a World Wide Web and what you say or post today will still be accessible years down the road. The implications are especially drastic in a divorce when children are involved. The best policy is to think good and hard about what you are typing or uploading before hitting “Enter.” As one commenter suggested, ask yourself if you’d like that picture or post with your name on a billboard for the entire world to see. Good advice.