The Dangers of Social Media in Family Law

By: Henry Gornbein
Last Update: December 16, 2016

Social media is a critical issue that impacts everyone who deals with divorce – from the divorcing couple themselves to the professionals who work with them. Every day, I think that I have heard it all and then there will be new issues involving social media issues and my divorce clients. I always warn my clients to avoid social media as much as possible during a divorce or other family law proceeding.

More and more people are posting everything about their lives on Facebook and other social media sites. When I was writing my book, Divorce Demystified, Everything You Need To Know Before You File For Divorce (Momentum Books, 2014), Facebook and other social media were the main cause of 20% of all divorces. That number is now up to one-third of all divorces.

People have lost custody of their children because of posts and activities that have been picked up through social media. Examples include bad mouthing the other parent excessively on social media, and being caught in questionable or illegal activities such as being an escort through social media. Other cases include spouses being involved with another party with the children being included in Facebook postings, just to give some examples. Other cases where there has been an impact on custody include parents who would post pictures of their children on the same site where they were also involving themselves with escort services or pornography. With all of the lurkers and crazies out there, any post or controversial case comes with people promoting a cause or sideline quarterbacking.

The Internet provides access to everyone. When you're going through a divorce or custody suit, you do not want your dirty linen aired all over social media. You don’t want everyone commenting on or knowing about your private lives. Remember that divorces and other family law court proceedings are public records. We live in an age in which information – much of it erroneous or misleading – is readily available; this volume of information makes some people think they're experts who know more than the attorneys or judges about particular matters.

There's an old saying that people often have part of the story or part of the facts, but does anyone know the whole  story? Remember the blind man and the elephant? Everyone has a different perspective based upon his or her knowledge of the facts.

7 Ways the Internet Can Help Ruin a Marriage (and Complicate a Divorce)

  1. You can be anyone you want to be online. It’s so easy to be deceptive. I had a client who ran off to England for another man only to lose thousands of dollars though a Nigerian scam. People are more dishonest online than they are in face-to-face relationships because it is easier to lie when you have some anonymity.
  2. Many affairs begin online through Facebook and other social media sites. I have had clients reconnect with old high-school sweethearts and literally move across the country in the middle of a divorce. In one case where I was representing the father, the mother abandoned her children – and my client – to move across the country. Needless to say, my client obtained full custody of their three children.
  3. The Internet is a source for day trading and e-trading where people can lose their life savings. This can come as a shock to the non-investor spouse during property division.
  4. Online gambling is another significant factor that has resulted in many divorces. Think of the fantasy football sites that generate billions of dollars in revenue by way of example.
  5. It’s easy to access drugs – both prescription and illegal – online. In 2013, the owner of the “Silk Road” (an online black market and the first modern darknet market) was sentenced to life in prison for dealing illegal narcotics through this very successful website. Although the FBI shut down the Silk Road, various successor websites continue to pop up.
  6. There are websites that encourage infidelity. Ashley Madison’s motto was: “Life is Short – Have An Affair.” That site was hacked in July 2015, and the hackers released contact information for thousands of users in August. After that, some of my clients’ spouses had a lot of explaining to do.
  7. An angry or unhinged person can stalk or bully their ex-spouse online.

5 Tips for Using the Internet During Divorce

  1. Don’t post messages or photos on Facebook or other sites that could come back to haunt you.
  2. Think twice before participating in intimate photos or videos at any time. They can come back to haunt you. Some people running revenge porn sites have been sentenced to long prison terms.
  3. Be careful with what you say in emails and texts. They can be used against you as evidence in a divorce.
  4. Monitor your children. Children’s access to computers can become major issues. I have a case where my client’s young daughters have been exposed to pornography when left unattended by their father who left them with his girlfriend’s 11-year-old daughter while he and his girlfriend were in another part of the house.
  5. Deleted does not mean gone.There is always a permanent record of your emails and other postings. This is where forensic experts can become so important in a divorce action.

The bottom line is that you should think carefully before you post anything on social media during – and even after – divorce. Push the wrong button or post the wrong item and the consequences could be horrible. We live in an age where almost anything can go viral – and it could cost you dearly.

These are my thoughts. What are yours?

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