Going through a divorce or child custody dispute can be a stressful time. These days, people often turn to social media to express our opinions, share emotions, and even to keep up with the news. However, your social media shares, comments, photos, and statuses can be used against you in your family law case. A once harmless photo out with friends can be used as evidence in your court case.
During a family law case, there are rules that allow parties to obtain information from and about the other party. There are even rules preventing parties from destroying evidence (physical evidence or online evidence) in anticipation of their court case. Discovery typically includes an exchange of information and documents, such as tax returns, bank statements, W-2s, and more. However, the discovery process can also include exchanging, providing, or finding emails, text messages, and social media posts. You may be asked to produce documents, answer written questions, or even participate in a deposition. The goal of discovery is for each person to have all relevant information that they need to either settle the case or to prepare for trial. This process can be lengthy, expensive, and feel very invasive.
Social Media and my Case
Sharing a status about your ex may feel great and get you the validation that you want, but social media is not the place to air your grievances or to discuss your case. Saying something good or bad can come back to hurt you later on. A single sentence, even if only implicitly, trashing your ex could be used to show you are unable to foster a relationship between them and your child. Also, if you post about how much you work or about your success, and yet you claim in court that you cannot afford something related to your case, this can be used to undermine your position. Talk to your friends and family, or a mental health expert, but keep limit your exposure by limiting your social media presence.
Similarly, photos that are posted on social media websites can be used as evidence in your case. Did you decide to blow off some steam and go to Vegas with your friends? Great. Don’t share the photos of you drinking in the middle of the day on Instagram. Money is always an issue in divorce and your spouse’s attorney will be scrutinizing every penny you spend. A picture could be used to convince the court that you have spent money irresponsibly or prioritized your spending inappropriately.
Photos can also be used as evidence of ongoing substance abuse issues or generally irresponsible behavior. You don’t want the judge flipping through Instagram photos of you taking shots, displaying drug paraphernalia, while you are arguing for equal parenting time or claiming. Likewise, if you are taking the position that you cannot afford certain things related to your case, posts flaunting your success will undermine your argument.
To Use or Not to Use?
There is no reason to add to your electronic footprint while your case is pending before the Court. It’s best to keep a low social media profile, and maybe stop using it altogether, until your case has wrapped up. It may also be wise to ask your family and friends to not engage with your ex or their friends online as well. Just because you don’t post something does not mean that your friends will not.
Likewise, if you have concerns about social media posts that the other party in your case has created or shared, then you should make sure to capture screen shots of those posts, before your case begins. While there are rules prohibiting the destruction of electronic evidence in anticipation of litigation, not every person follows those rules. You do not want to lose track of valuable evidence that may help prove your position in your case.
An experienced family law attorney can help you navigate your case during the digital age. If you have questions about how your or your spouse’s social media may impact your case, call GEM Family Law for a free consultation today.
Authored by: Meagan K. Moodie, Esq., Partner