Divorce has always been contentious, but social media has added a new twist. During the divorce, couples may find their e-mails, text messages, tweets, and Facebook postings used against them. These social media posts will often be attached to legal briefs and memorandums as exhibits and evidence for the public record. Over the last several years, three major issues have come up around social media that divorcing couples should be aware of before they click “send” on their phone or laptop.
Issue #1: Messages To and From Opposing Parties
The first major issue is that parties often text or send messages to their ex-spouse can be used against them during the hearings or trial. Even a message as innocent as “WHY WON’T YOU REPLY?!” can be introduced as evidence of stalking to obtain a restraining order. The simplest response is to avoid sending messages to the other side while the case is ongoing, but this isn’t always easy or even possible. In child custody cases, parents are often forced to communicate about pick-up times, vacation days, and illnesses. If parents have to communicate, they are also typically under court order to be civil and polite to one another. Under a court order, sending disrespectful e-mails or text messages to the other parent may result in contempt of court charges, especially if the parent sending the messages has been warned.
The second issue is that parties often post messages about their lifestyle which are often used as evidence against them. One common tactic to stop spousal support requests is to show the supported spouse is financially better off than he or she portrays. If a spouse claims she needs support because she makes less than her husband, her Facebook Page should not show her traveling to exotic locations. Even a picture of a shopping spree might sway the judge to rule against a temporary support request. Similarly, if one parent is under court order not to contact a child, that parent should not be using social media as a means of circumventing the order. Such messages will most certainly be used against the parent at the next custody hearing. Of course, the best way to address this issue is to avoid posting any picture or making any comments about one’s financial circumstances until after the divorce has been completed and all the assets have been divided.
Issue #3: Third Party Messages
The last issue is that social media such as Facebook allows third parties to engage or even harass the parties. During a divorce, friends and family members often feel compelled to choose a side, resulting in social media posts that can improperly influence a court case. Statements often range from outraged concern such as “how could you do this to her? She’s been nothing but good to you!” to outright threats, such as “if you don’t stop spreading these rumors, you’ll never see the kids again!” What can you do if (former) friends and family are sending harassing text messages or inappropriate Facebook postings about the divorce?
In some instances, the best play might be to ignore them. The messages might be annoying, but other than being stressful, they can’t cause any real harm. Furthermore, family law judges have limited jurisdiction and cannot order a family member living three states away from doing anything. The second option might be to have your attorney send a threatening letter asking the person to stop the messages. The court might not be able to back up the letter, but in many instances the bluff is often enough to convince the family member or friend to stop. Finally, if the harassing party is in fact living in the state, the presiding judge can issue a restraining order ordering the offending party to cease and desist.
Authored by Jason Cheung, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law