With smartphone always at the ready and a plethora of social media outlets, folks capture life's moments, some of which are great memories and some that can be come back to haunt them in a divorce or custody case, in less than a minute. In most family law cases, exhibits regularly contain social media posts, therefore it is important to think before you post.
How Social Media Posts Can Be Used in Your Family Law Case
Judges do not look positively upon posts or comments about your spouse/former partner that are negative. Negative posts or comments can easily be perceived as a threat and/or parental alienation, which can potentially lead to a restraining order or possibly loss of timeshare with children.
The pictures you post on social media can cause substantial damage. If you post or are tagged in a picture out at the bar, when you were supposed to be in a caretaking role of your children, you can guarantee that your spouse/former partner will use that picture in court. If you are posting pictures of all your vacations and purchases, but claiming you cannot pay maintenance or child support, your vacation photos could be used to question your ability to pay.
Not only does checking in at locations allow your spouse/former partner to keep tabs on you, but these posts can be used against you in custody and placement disputes, as well as in property division and support cases. If you are checking in at a bar or adult establishment during a time when your timeshare with the children, this shows that you are not spending your time with your children. If you are constantly checking in at restaurants and sporting events, but claiming not to have money to support yourself or your child, you could be damaging your case for maintenance or support.
How to Protect Yourself
- Shut down or disable your account. The best thing to do is to STOP. Deactivate Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, dating apps and ALL social media prior to and during your family law case. There is certainly a possibility that screenshots or copies have been made of your profile/comments/pictures, etc. Deactivating the account will also help you resist the temptation to post or comment during the process.
- Check your Privacy Settings. If you absolutely cannot disconnect, then you need to reevaluate your privacy settings. Limit the people that can see your posts, comments, pictures, etc. Also, do not be naïve and think blocking the spouse/ former partner is enough. Social media is a spider web of connections. You may think you have blocked all his/her family and friends, but there is most likely someone still trolling your posts and will report anything that can be construed negatively. Also, your spouse/former partner can use other's devices to search your social media feed(s). When in doubt—shut it down.
- Change your Passwords. Deactivating an account or changing your privacy settings is useless if your spouse/former partner has the password to your account and can help themselves to any information they want. Change your password to something he or she would never know.
- Delete potentially damaging information. Take down posts, pictures, etc. that could conceivably be used against you. Look through your “friends” and unfriend anyone that you don't know or is in the same circle as your spouse/former partner.
- Think before you post. Before you post, comment, tag a picture, etc. think about what you are doing, and if this information could damage your family law case. Avoid any emotional or over-sharing posts about the family law matter, your spouse/former partner, and your children. Think to yourself—“what if my children read this?” and whether it offers any positive benefit to them. Even if you delete your rant later, once it appeared on the world-wide-web, it may be captured forever in a screenshot.
- Be upfront with your attorney. If you know that there is, or was, potentially damaging information on any of your social media accounts, share this information with your attorney so your attorney can be prepared on how to potentially defend this information.