Social media has become an integral part of our everyday lives. If you survey your friends and family, chances are you’ll have a harder time identifying someone who does not use social media than identifying those who do.
According to Pew, nearly 7 in 10 Americans use at least one social media platform. Many of us use social media to share our thoughts, feelings, interests, and activities. This can be great to connect with friends and family we cannot communicate with on a regular basis because of geography or busy lifestyles.
This has also, however, proven to be dangerous when couples are going through a divorce or separation. When ex-spouses are fighting over alimony, child support, and child custody they may take to social media to vent. They may not know that what you say and do on social media can affect divorce proceedings.
Social Media May Not Be Private
No matter how “private” you think your social media posts may be – they probably aren’t. Many couples have mutual friends and contacts on social media. When you go through a separation or divorce, these friends, family members, and connections often choose sides.
These connections may not, however, delete you as a contact on social media. Even if you are no longer “Facebook friends” with your soon-to-be-ex, they can still stay up-to-date on your life through the reports of mutual friends and family. Posts you make can inflame an already tense situation and, in some cases, contradict statements you make on official legal documents or in court.
You should also be aware of posts made by mutual connections. If a friend “tags” you in a social media post it could potentially hurt your divorce or custody case if the post contains negative information or contradicts statements you have made in official legal documents.
Indications of Financial Ability
When you file for divorce in California you are required to fill out financial disclosure forms, including the Income & Expense Declaration and the Schedule of Assets and Debts. Once you complete your financial disclosures you must share them with your soon-to-be-ex.
This helps to make sure that all of the information provided is accurate. These forms help the court make important decisions about how assets should be allocated and the earning capacity of each spouse, among other things.
How is social media relevant here? Let’s say you happen to win a few thousand dollars on a scratch-off lottery ticket while you are still married. Instead of sharing that news with your spouse you hide the money. A few weeks later you file for divorce.
During your contested divorce, you happen to make a post on social media that references your lottery win earlier that year – perhaps you went on a shopping spree in downtown Los Angeles with the winnings to blow off steam and posted a photo of your lavish purchases. As a result, your spouse gets wind of your jackpot winnings. They run to check the financial disclosure form you signed under oath and filed with the court, only to find that there is no mention of the lottery winnings. What you probably believed to be an innocent post could land you in hot legal water.
Something similar actually happened to a California woman in 1999. She did not disclose her lottery winnings on her financial disclosure forms and a judge found that she had acted out of fraud and malice. The end result? The ex-husband was awarded all of the woman’s lottery winnings.
As you can see, failing to disclose pertinent financial information on these forms can have serious consequences. In California, financial disclosures are affidavits that are signed under oath. Fraudulent statements can be considered perjury, and intentionally withholding information could be considered fraud.
Determining the Best Interests of a Child
Social media posts that contain information about illicit, extramarital or potentially dangerous activities could also be harmful during divorce and child custody proceedings. When you argue for the custody of your child you want to convince the court that you are a capable and loving parent. You want to argue that your child will have a safe environment.
Courts also tend to favor awarding primary custody to the parent who displays a willingness to engage the non-custodial parent in the child’s life. Social media posts that disparage a child’s parent or portray drug and alcohol abuse could end up harming you in court. A judge could determine, from your social media posts, that awarding custody to you may not be in the best interest of the child.
Using Social Media as Evidence in Your Divorce
Do courts really review social media posts as evidence, though? You bet. Advances in technology – including the surge in popularity of social media – have forced changes in the way we approach and litigate legal issues. Divorces are no exception. Attorneys in California have a responsibility to fully investigate and advocate for their clients. This responsibility now includes tracking and obtaining any helpful or persuasive electronic evidence.
Courts have found that social media posts are admissible if their value is probative. This means that social media can be used to help prove or disprove a legal issue. For example, social media posts about your spouse’s partying habits would probably help to prove that he or she is not the best choice for custody of a child. If your attorney can show that the information in the posts is relevant, probative, and/or contradictory to statements made in court, social media posts may be allowed as evidence.
Refrain From Using Social Media During a Divorce
As experienced Los Angeles divorce attorneys, we have seen the damage that social media posts can do during a contested divorce. We advise our clients to refrain from using social media as much as possible while going through a divorce. Even seemingly innocent posts can be harmful in court. Privacy settings probably won’t keep your posts from unwanted eyes.
The best way to prevent social media from hurting you is to take a break from it until your divorce is finalized. If you have questions about using social media during a divorce, or using evidence you got from social media to your advantage during a divorce, contact our Los Angeles family law attorneys today.