Many people don't think twice before throwing up new photographs of their children on Facebook or publishing updates on Twitter. It is easier to stay connected when announcing news or venting about personal issues can occur at the click of a button. Evidence suggests, however, that frivolous behavior on social networking Web sites can have a serious legal impact, particularly in divorce and child custody cases.
This is especially true when users do not consider the public nature of what they write and post in social networking groups. Many Web sites, such as MySpace and Twitter, allow users to protect their pages from public view, requiring others to gain approval from the account holder. However, this does not prevent approved members from saving copies of these pages and passing them on to estranged spouses or other interested parties.
Moreover, many people choose not to protect their social networking accounts, oblivious to the legal consequences. During a divorce, litigants can use any ammunition at their disposal to gain advantage over their spouses, which includes bringing information from Web sites into evidence.
In fact, according to The Record, many divorce cases all over the country have included information from social networking sites, including "photos, status updates and wall posts." Attorneys often advise their clients to take down any Web pages until the case has been resolved.
Know the Consequences of your Online Activity
To illustrate, the case of Newland vs. Newland in Collier County, Fla., involves not only photographs posted on social networking sites, but also allegations of cyber stalking, which includes e-mail, texting and other forms of communication. There are numerous ways in which social networking can impact a divorce case, and people should be aware of the potential consequences of their online activity. Posting photos showing use of illegal substances, overconsumption of alcohol or evidence of illegal activity can potentially be used against the person posting (or being "tagged" by others) the photos, either in family court or even in criminal court. Posting negative messages about the other parent can backfire in a contested custody case, especially if the parties have been cautioned against making disparaging remarks about the other parent.
On the one hand, the Internet facilitates simple communication and makes it easy for attorneys and their clients to build cases. On the other, seemingly innocent activity on social networking sites can be construed in negative ways and used against the person responsible. It is also important to realize that what you post now can become a problem in 10 years; even taking down a page or canceling an account does not necessarily scrub it from the Internet. Attorneys can easily subpoena internet sites to obtain information about the account you created and tried to delete. This information can include when you created your account, the information you provided to the host and your activity on that site. Information provided to online dating sites can be especially pivotal in divorce cases that turn on the issue of date of separation.
Those who use social networking sites should take a moment before posting pictures, status updates, videos and other media. Consider whether it is appropriate to publish those things on the Internet, and try to consider the potential ramifications.
Remember that social networking is not just a liability in divorce cases. Employment and housing issues can also become a problem if potential employers or landlords discover and dislike your Internet activity.
Consult With an Attorney
If you are contemplating a divorce and have questions about how social networking may impact your case, contact a family law attorney in your area. A lawyer can explain what information may be brought into the divorce process, evaluate your circumstances and help you determine what the next best steps may be in your situation.