Will social media play a role in your Texas divorce?

Social media and networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are, for good or bad, a part of modern life. Many people update or check-in with their social networks one or more times every day. We have, as a society, become accustomed to sharing - or possibly "over-sharing" - much of our lives electronically.

There are many benefits to this, such as reconnecting with childhood friends, staying in touch with family members who live far away and making connections that could lead to new career opportunities. In some instances, though, information derived from social media can be used as a weapon against us.

A prime example of this is the introduction of social media or other electronic evidence in divorces, child custody or support disputes and other family-related legal matters. This is actually surprisingly common: over 80 percent of family law attorneys polled by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers say that they have seen a sharp increase in the amount of social media-derived evidence used in contested divorce cases.

What types of evidence can be gathered through social media?

You may assume that, since you have tweaked the privacy settings on your social networking accounts, what you say is protected. That is definitely not the case; anything you post electronically could possibly be discovered by your spouse. Even if you "unfriend" or "block" your spouse, he or she could still be friends with some of your online connections, thus giving him a window in which to view your activity. Your spouse might even have someone else "friend" you for the purpose of keeping tabs on your online activity.

If you forget to reset your privacy setting preferences after a program update (something that happens often on Facebook, the most popular social media site in the world), your entire profile, including your status updates, friend lists, pictures, activity log and more, could be accessible.

Other electronic evidence

In addition to information gathered from sites like Facebook and Twitter, other forms of electronic evidence are becoming increasingly common in family law matters. These include:

  • Text messages
  • Call records (from cellphones or landlines)
  • Emails
  • Web browser histories
  • Downloaded documents, attachments or photographs saved on computer hard drives
  • "Screen shots" of computer activity

The best defense...

If you are - or anticipate you will be - involved in a divorce, child custody fight or other contested family-related legal matter, there are ways to avoid having social media and electronic evidence used against you. The best way would be to deactivate your social media accounts. By not saying anything at all, you wouldn't have to worry about saying something that could be interpreted in a negative way.

Another option would be to carefully consider each thing you post, being sure not to "bash" your spouse, complain about the way the case is going or how your attorney is handling it, or express your feelings about a judge's decision. Focusing on neutral topics decreases the chance of misinterpretation by your spouse or his/her attorney.

With careful attention, it is possible to maintain your social networking during this difficult time and get the support of loved ones when you need it most. You must take heed that anything you say or post, or if someone "tags" you in a photo or "checks you in" at a location, can be discovered. A skilled Texas family law attorney can give you more information about the potential impact of social media and can counsel you on how to make wise choices online.