While the memorable maxim “sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you,” may be good advice for building courage and character, it’s certainly not applicable in the Facebook age, when a few poorly chosen words can land divorcing spouses in a world of hurt – financially speaking, that is.
That’s because spouses who post barbed missives about a “deadbeat dad,” a “lush wife,” an “abusive partner” or anything that crosses the line between opinion and unsubstantiated allegation – and it’s a murky line, at best – could end up on the wrong side of both a divorce settlement and, just as painfully, a lawsuit for libel.
“You give up so much privacy, and if you don’t understand the consequences of [posting on social media], you can really have problems,” commented Adam Swickle in an interview with Reuters. “The Internet is a dangerous place to comment on your divorce.”
At Divorce Magazine, we’ve written about how many family lawyers scan Facebook and other social media sites for damming evidence to be used against their client’s spouse (read the article here).
To take that a step further, courtesy of Reuters, here are some libel-related things to keep in mind when spouses let their fingers do the walking in the wrong direction:
1. While Freedom of Speech laws can protect spouses from being sued for libel, this only applies if what was said was true and can be substantiated.
2. Even if an accusation is true, if it proves to be financially damaging to the other party, it can still end up in front of a judge. For example, and angry wife may post that her husband is a “total cheat and liar.” If her husband’s boss reads that, and as a result it damages his career prospects, financial relief can be sought.
3. If something regrettable has been posted, then spouses may emerge without being financially scathed – but only if they apologize. “You can’t unring a bell,” Swickle commented, “but just like a newspaper, you can print a retraction. You can say that yesterday you were angry and what you wrote really isn’t true, please ignore it. It’s the smart thing to do, and it may take you out of a problem.”
And of course, as mentioned above, even if spouses don’t find themselves on the wrong end of a libel lawsuit, anything they post online – even in areas that claim to be private or off-limits to non-members – can be used in court.
“Judges don’t like reading those blog posts, tweets or Facebook status updates,” family lawyer Jacquiline Newman told Reuters. “Especially if you have children. These things don’t go away, and a judge will tell you that your children will learn to tweet, and they’ll read what you write in the heat of the moment. It’s awful. Loose fingers can be worse than loose lips.”
Our best advice? One word: restraint.
As (temporarily) satisfying as it may be to trash a spouse on Facebook, through Twitter, on a blog, or anywhere else, nothing good that can come of it.
Spouses should speak with their family lawyer about legal issues, and if necessary, a qualified mental health professional about their emotional issues.
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