This article was written by Hance | Wickham associate attorney Beverly Ward Via.
For many, social media is an important and even essential way to connect with family, friends, and associates. But social media can sometimes be more public, more revealing, and more negative than its users intend it to be – particularly when someone is trying to put his or her best foot forward in an arena like a job hunt, a performance review, or even in court.
When I think about the perils of social media, I think back to a child support enforcement case I worked on back in the days when people had Myspace accounts, in which my client’s former spouse argued that she was not able to pay her court-ordered child support based on a disability claim. However, we found a recent photo of the former spouse on her Myspace page partying on a cigarette boat, suggesting that she maybe didn’t have the disability she claimed to have. I took the evidence to her lawyer, and successfully shut down that claim on the way to settling that case.
I’ve been practicing law for 25 years now, and even though I joke that I’m a “fuddy-duddy” when it comes to using social media myself, I’m definitely aware of what social media networks people are using, how they can be used as evidence, and how they can trip up clients who don’t see the dangers in an offhand comment or a picture from a wild night out with friends.
While it’s hard for people in this day and age to unplug from social media, following some common sense guidelines about using social media while in the midst of a divorce proceeding can minimize the effect on the case itself.
Do an inventory of your social media presence before you file for divorce: It’s a good idea to look through your networks on a regular basis to see what you’re showing the world, but it’s especially true if you’re the one filing for divorce. Certain photos or posts in your history could be used to question your fidelity or your fitness as a parent if the divorce becomes adversarial. Facebook’s privacy filters can help you shield certain material from public view, and you should definitely use privacy settings on general principle, but material shared with mutual friends can get back to your spouse more quickly than you might think.
Don’t flaunt a new significant other: You might be excited that you’ve moved on and have a new significant other, but posting photos from a romantic weekend getaway might not be the wisest thing to do while you’re still legally married. Remember: In Texas, you’re married until you’re divorced, and photos showing that you’ve moved on – especially if your spouse hasn’t – can damage negotiations.
Don’t post about your spouse: Anything bad or good. You are getting a divorce during which anything you say can and probably will be taken out of context.
Think before you post: That’s a good rule all the time, but especially when you’re dealing with the emotions of a divorce. Need to vent? It’s much better to call a close friend or see your therapist than to broadcast it to your entire Facebook or Twitter feed. In any case, ask yourself if you really need to publish a post or send a Tweet before you do so. Even if you delete something shortly after publishing it, just one alert person taking a screenshot can preserve that lapse in judgment.
While your social media profile may never enter into your divorce proceedings, you don’t want to take that risk. Questions that arise over what you posted a month, a year, or a decade ago have the potential to bog down divorce cases and even have real financial and custody repercussions. You don’t have to be a fuddy-duddy and unplug completely, but you do need to be mindful of what’s online as you’re trying to finalize a decree that will affect you years into the future.