“The unexamined life is not worth living.” While Socrates was referring to self-examination, social media has changed that meaning for many people today. These days, plenty of people feel that life isn’t worth living unless it’s examined, and approved, by everyone else via posts, tweets, stories, snaps, and videos. Unfortunately, that can be a dangerous notion if you are involved in a divorce or child custody matter.
Pictures of your grandmother’s birthday party or lunch on your tropical vacation? You would think those events are probably okay to post, though not if you are claiming you are too broke for spousal support or your creepy uncle is in the background around your kids. The point of social media is for you to have an audience and an impact. Let us help you ensure your audience and impact are appropriate for your case.
As family law attorneys, we have seen how parties can have their social media used against them—and we can help you avoid the same fate.
1. DO: Plan Ahead.
If you intend to file for divorce or a complaint or motion regarding parenting of your children, you have an advantage: you already know that your social media will be under scrutiny. Look over your accounts with a fresh eye—pretend you are your spouse’s attorney, your ex’s new significant other snooping around, or a judge. What do your posts say about you? Devoted parent? Party animal? Hard worker? Big spender? Be realistic and honest with your attorney about your past posts.
2. DO: Take a Look at Your (soon to be) Ex’s Posts.
If you’re filing for divorce, check out your current spouse’s posts. If you’re filing regarding parenting issues, check out your co-parent’s posts. If they have posted things on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, or Instagram that reveal negative things about their character or behavior, especially around the children, take screenshots including the date and time of the post. Once your case begins, your partner might decide to “scrub” their social media sites. It can be useful to have proof of what was once there.
3. DO: Consider What Others Have Posted.
We often show up in our friends’ social media posts or may be tagged. Ask your friends not to post unflattering photos or dialogues about you, or at a minimum, not to tag you so the posts will be harder to find. We aren’t talking about the picture where you have a double chin. Think: pictures from Halloween when you were smashed with your girlfriends, pictures that can be construed as adultery, pictures of you holding your three-year-old with no helmet on a dirt bike. Also remember that pictures are not the only issue. Look for rants. Your own rants, your sister’s rants, your new girlfriend’s rants- anything that can be construed to be directly or indirectly about “scum of the earth dirtbags compared to YOU, the loving wonderful parent.” Check out our post about badmouthing a co-parent if you have questions about why this paints YOU negatively—not them. Don’t post things like that. Don’t let your friends post things like that. Just don’t.
4. DO: Be Wary of Appearing in New Social Media Posts.
Everybody has a camera these days and you may not realize that it’s been trained on you until it’s too late. You can’t control all the phones, but you have some control over the situations in which you find yourself. Avoid those in which you might get photographed appearing to drink heavily or appear to be romantically involved with someone who’s not your spouse, or out on the town during the time you were supposed to be with your child, among others.
Even if the situation is totally innocent and appropriate, the image that ends up in front of the judge may lack that context. You don’t want to look irresponsible, especially if issues about your kids are at stake.
5. DON’T: Show Off Your Purchases on Social Media.
When we get something new, or go on a glamorous vacation, the temptation to show it off on social media is strong. Resist that temptation! Family law matters usually involve financial issues: spousal support (alimony), child support, division of property and division of debts. Your spouse or partner could use your social media posts to argue that you have more money than you claim or that you are deliberately increasing credit card debt. Even if that new designer bag or motorcycle was a gift, you may have to answer for the impression it creates.
6. DON’T: Discuss Your Case or Your Partner on Social Media.
Family law is emotionally draining on everyone involved. You can get advice and sympathy from friends near and far, but that support can come at a very high price if it is open for the world to see. Especially if you have minor children in common with your partner, posting something negative about him or her can make you look bad in court. Courts consider your willingness to support your children’s relationship with their other parent and to cooperate in co-parenting. Trash-talking your soon-to-be-ex, especially publicly, will be a mark against you. Don’t post anything that might make you look unstable—keep your therapy details between you and your healthcare provider.
7. DON’T: Count on Privacy Settings to Protect You.
Most social media sites have privacy settings to help you control what others see. But in reality, it is almost impossible to guarantee that something you post won’t be seen by someone you don’t want to see it. Someone you trust might share it with someone else you don’t. Certainly, don’t post publicly during your case. Lock down your profiles as best you can, but above all, assume that everything you post will, somehow, make it into the hands of your partner’s attorney.
8. DON’T: Change your Relationship Status or Join a Dating App.
Don’t even think about changing your status to “single” until you are actually no longer married. Don’t publicly behave (on social media or otherwise) as if you are single until you actually are. Dating apps such as Bumble, Tinder, Hinge, Match, EHarmony, or the next best thing may be fun, but don’t join while you are still married. Most sites like those cost money. Money earned while you are married is marital. When your soon-to-be ex finds out you used marital money to pay for a dating app, or introduced your new significant other to your kids, settlement negotiations tend to blow up. Don’t make your attorney’s job harder by pretending you are single when you’re not—regardless of the status of your emotions.
9. DON’T: Delete.
There are rules about destroying evidence which have major repercussions on you, your credibility, and your case. Called “spoliation” of evidence, it is the willful destruction of evidence. In layman’s terms—you can’t delete those old drinking pics from your account. You can’t delete those old posts where you tell your ex to stick it where the sun don’t shine. Tell your lawyer about them so she can be prepared, but don’t delete them.
10. DO: Think About Getting Off Social Media Altogether (For Now).
Any experienced family law attorney will tell you that the single best way to avoid a damaging social media post in your divorce or custody matter is just to stay off social media. Given how much we use social media to stay in touch with distant loved ones, get the news, and entertain ourselves, that might be a big ask. If you can stay off of social media for at least the duration of your family law case, that’s a good start. If you can’t, or are unwilling to, then minimize your use and follow Tips 1-9 above to minimize the risk of social media causing problems in your case.
If you have further questions about social media and divorce or custody, we invite you to contact our family law office for a consultation.