In this day and age, you can find out what someone’s favorite food is, what activities they participate in on their spare time, who their friends are, where they travel to and their deepest darkest thoughts on social media. Most people assume that because they have set the maximum privacy settings, have chosen the most creative passwords and have been extremely selective about the people they accept as their friends and followers that their privacy is well protected. Wrong!! In fact, I have had countless clients going through divorce and family law issues have their own pictures, words, thoughts, and associations used against them in court. These same clients always tell me the same thing, “I have no idea how they possibly could have found that”, “One of my friends must be sharing this information with them”, or “they must have broken into my account!” Well, guess what, it does not matter how your ex obtained the information; they can still use it against you in your case.
I had a client once who had major concerns about her spouse’s fitness to care for their children because she claimed he was an alcoholic. We requested that the court conduct drug tests, but her spouse was smart and would stay sober in those days and weeks prior to a court appearance or the appearance of an agency worker at his home. She would show me pictures from family get-togethers, vacations, and other functions always having a drink in his hand but these were not enough to convince the judge that the spouse had an issue with alcohol abuse. What made matters more complicated is that the children were still too young to know what an alcoholic beverage was or if daddy was intoxicated. Their father went to work every day and by all outer images seemed like a functioning bright hard working young man. However, my client insisted that he was an alcoholic and from her description of their relationship and his behavior I believed her. A few weeks before trial, a friend of my client who was also friends with my client’s husband came to her with some pretty troubling photos she had printed from his facebook account. In those photos he was in a car, with a drink in hand, and flaunting the fact that he was going to party, that he was going to meet “chicks” and “get trashed” with his buddies. The fact that he was holding a drink by the steering wheel of a car, and the language of these posts, was enough for the judge to limit his visitation. In fact the judge ordered supervised visitation, required him to undergo counseling, substance abuse and outpatient rehabilitation and jump through many other hoops to have unsupervised visitation with his children.
In the circumstance of the alcoholic father, it was for the best that the truth came out. He was able to get the help he needs and my client was extremely relieved that her young children were protected. However, sometimes posts on social media cause unnecessary problems for good people. For instance, I had a client once who was a teacher, a very nice women, and mother to three children between the ages of 4 and 11. On one particular court appearance the judge did not like something my client had said and gave her a piece of her mind. This is not uncommon and I had advised my client that some judges can be easily irritated and that she should simply forget it as would the judge. My client went home and posted a rant about the judge, and put in great detail using lots of key French words letting all of her friends and followers know exactly what she thought of this judge and her opinions, and where she could shove them – if you know what I mean. Well, you have probably guessed what happened by now. On the next court appearance, guess who waltzed into court with these posts…of course, my client’s husband and his attorney. As much as I argued that these posts were completely irrelevant to the case, the judge was curious about the choice expletives my client had used to describe her and overruled my objections. Even though the case ended up settling, it was a long uphill battle because instead of fighting the other attorney and the Husband, we also had a judge that hated my client to contend with.
Beware of Social Media Use During Divorce
I often warn my clients to take a break from social media during the divorce. I mean completely cold turkey stop posting on social media. Why? Because, what one may think of as harmless, another may be able to spin into an issue causing you great harm. Parents often contend about whether or not pictures of their children should be on social media. Accusations of one spouse’s obvious lack of sensitivity or awareness of their children’s needs fly around when photos of their new significant other together with the children pop up. Something as innocent as photos of one spouse’s business travel can impact a case when the other spouse can prove they are better able to care for the children because they do not have to travel. I can go on and on about how seemingly innocent social media posts can complicate and alter the outcome of a family law and/or divorce case.
In Both New York and New Jersey, Social Media Posts are Admissible as Evidence in Divorce and Family Law Cases
In both New York and New Jersey social media posts can and will be used against you. In fact, people posting about their activities, their purchases, and their lifestyle can be evidence of their spending practices. In both New York and New Jersey spousal support and child support can be based on standard of living, and what is more telling then social media posts about your standard of living. In fact, social media posts can be the best evidence of the couple’s standard of living during marriage for the spouse requesting support, because often times the image of a family and/or relationship on social media is extremely inflated and exaggerated to show much more abundance, wealth and activity then what actually takes place in the home. However, these false pretenses can sink you when they come in against you in a divorce or family law case. No one is going to believe it when you argue that your life on social media is in fact an augmented reality, simply a composite view of your reality.
Do yourself a favor and stop the social media posts completely during the divorce and family law case. If you were an avid social media sharer before, I would even consider deleting your accounts and trying to find out if your spouse has already printed or provided their attorney with any pictures and/or posts they have taken from your social media accounts. Many attorneys do not think to request such documents specifically during the discovery phase of your case, but I would make sure that your attorney does so. Lastly, do yourself a favor and do a full inventory of your online history and image, as the last thing you want is for your attorney to be blindsided by some article, post, review, crime or other misdeed lingering on the 5th page of a Google search of your name.
Once the divorce or family law case is done, you can go back to Instagramming to your heart’s content, but keep in mind your spouse can always take you back to court if something truly troubling is posted. However, a post announcing your return to your loyal friends and followers, and celebrating your newfound freedom, for example, a post stating, “NOTHING SAYS A GOOD DAY LIKE A DIVORCE!” is totally warranted and acceptable!