How Social Media Helps — and Hurts — Your Divorce

Over the years, social media has grown from online whimsy to, for many of us, virtual necessity. We want our updated professional information on LinkedIn, in case anyone is considering our qualifications for a dream job. We want our Facebook and Twitter accounts to have as many friends and followers as possible. It’s good for our businesses for obvious reasons, and it’s good for our personal lives to foster connectedness with friends near and far. Sometimes, though, all that connectedness can do more harm than good. 

Like many, you and your husband have probably used social media to reconnect with friends and acquaintances from days gone by. Facebook is particularly good for those “whatever happened to” questions. It’s tempting to find former sweethearts, and see what their lives are like after all these years. “I see you got married.” “Yes, thirteen years now,” comes the reply. Then, “But marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, LOL. How ‘bout you?”

And so, sometimes, begins trouble. While it’s a stretch to say that Facebook is single-handedly destroying marriages, there are plenty of stories about affairs that began on social media. One recent study even shows a correlation between social media use and divorce rates

Whether or not social media contributed to the demise of your marriage, it can play a significant role in your divorce. However, you have to think of it as a sword that cuts both ways.

Social Media Can Work for You in Divorce If…
Let me first say that I’m in no way suggesting you snoop into your husband’s email, texts or social media accounts. Privacy and wiretapping laws about these things differ from state-to-state, are notoriously convoluted, and you don’t want to run afoul of them. When in doubt, consult with your attorney. 

That said, there are worlds of information to be gleaned from your husband’s public social media presence, with no password necessary… and even if he blocks you. I’ve had clients report information on their estranged husbands financial activities as relayed to them by mutual friends who were still following his Facebook updates.

What kind of information can be gleaned? Perhaps there may be clues that your husband is hiding assets. Are there pictures of a recent golf weekend? Did his girlfriend Tweet delight with an expensive new gift? It’s peculiar timing for these things, if he just told the court he’s broke. 

Even when they think they’re being savvy about it, most people leave a trail of breadcrumbs in their online social behavior. And even if they are super-careful, odds are good that their friends are making mistakes too. It might be easy to catch your husband in a lie if he forgets to turn off his social media apps’ location notification (did he say he was on business in Houston… while FourSquare shows him at a premier New York hotel?) or if his friends post without thinking or tag him in a photo. 

…But You Should Avoid the Social Media Minefield Yourself
Divorce is one arena in which the wrong picture, or the wrong post, can have devastating consequences. While it might be fair game to use that to your advantage, the more important thing is to make absolutely sure that you aren’t vulnerable yourself. 

Sometimes, appearance is all that matters. 

Suppose a group gathers to celebrate a friend’s birthday. You haven’t been out in ages, and it feels good to let your hair down… especially with the focus on your friend, not your divorce, which you’re totally sick of talking about anyway. Enjoying yourselves, you all raise a glass to her special day. Within minutes, there’s a picture on Instagram, and everyone’s tagged. Looking at it later, you notice that because of how you’re sitting, your shirt is pulled oddly to one side. Your makeup is smudgy. Worse, two friends on the other end of the table decided it would be funny to mock-kiss for the camera.

Unfortunately, you can fully expect this misleading photo to appear at your custody hearing. The takeaway: Don’t post pictures, and don’t allow yourself to be tagged in them.

Where status updates are concerned, keep mum. Don’t even indulge in “vaguebooking.” Posting merely, “ugh, I am SO OVER this” — even without referencing what it is you are SO OVER — can backfire. At best, it looks childish. At worst, the dates of such posts might be matched with events that have bearing on your case — and before you know it, you’ve provided enemies and friends alike with insights you should have kept private. Similarly, don’t post that you're “feeling loved,” even if you aren’t saying by whom. Save any hints of new romance until your divorce is final.

About Email and Text Messages
Many of us can barely remember a time when we didn’t communicate routinely by email or text. While email and texting aren’t quite what we mean when we talk about social media, they are worth discussing under the same umbrella, especially as social media apps increasingly offer their own messaging systems.  

Did you know that email and text messages can be admissible evidence in court? If you suspect your husband is being less than truthful on his Financial Affidavit, for example, it could be useful if a search of his subpoenaed emails brings up references to a recent bonus he hadn’t disclosed, or plans to make a major purchase that he shouldn’t be able to afford, given how broke he’s claiming to be. 

Consider Your Social Media Use to be Both Public and Permanent
Even with your privacy settings optimized, you should be comfortable with the idea that anything you post on social media will be online forever. Remember MySpace — the big thing before Facebook? Many people abandoned their pages, but didn’t delete them. Even Snapchat, the picture-sharing app that makes pictures “disappear” after a few seconds, is vulnerable to a screen shot by a photo’s recipient. (Snapchat has also introduced a messaging component, adding to your potential exposure.)

This infographic is a useful guideline for online conduct during divorce. And there’s always this simple rule: Never post, Tweet or share anything that you wouldn’t say in person, to the whole world, to be remembered forever. 

As a divorcing woman, you have good reason to minimize your online presence. There is a strong case to be made for deactivating Facebook, keeping Twitter activity down to following breaking news alerts, and suspending use of Instagram and Vine indefinitely. Until your settlement is final, the stakes may just be too high.

Jeffrey Landers is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.

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