Everyone is on social media these days, and it seems that, over time, the lines between what is appropriate to share and what is inappropriate to share have become blurred. Some people are tempted to share absolutely everything, including details on every single thing they ate that date, how they feel about some guy who cut in front of them in traffic, or that they’re currently chilling on the couch in yoga pants watching Friends re-runs. If they’re feeling especially cryptic, they’ll post sad song lyrics as their status and nothing else—and wait for all their friends to ask them what’s wrong.
Though the medium has changed (we don’t have MySpace pages anymore, for the most part, and no one (or at least, I think no one!) sends messages through AIM. (Thank goodness, it was exhausting trying to craft the perfect “away” message!) Now, there are literally dozens of social media sites—from Facebook and Twitter to Snapchat and Instagram. Google is still trying to make Google+ happen, everyone wonders how they planned anything artistic before Pinterest came along, and then there are sites like Tinder—enough said. Whether it’s Vine, LikedIn, Tumblr, Flickr, or something else that you use, it can pose a problem for you when it comes to your divorce or custody case.
We all have social media sites. It’s just a reality of living in this day and age. And we share things. And our friends share things, too. In general, lots of things are shared—both good and bad. And, furthermore, what may seem “good” to you isn’t necessarily good for your custody case. It’s important to get an idea early on of what is and is not appropriate to post on social media, so that you don’t make any serious missteps in your case. Here’s a list of 6 things to remember if you’re preparing to go through a divorce or custody case and you have any active social media accounts.
1. Your social media accounts are discoverable.
Don’t think that your husband (or his attorney) won’t be able to find whatever you post on social media. They will. And you can also be certain they’ll look. One of the first places most of us go for information these days is social media. We can find out a lot of details pretty shockingly quickly, and, depending on what’s up there, it can definitely change the tenor of a case. Social media works for us and against us, and it’s important to remember that, yes, other people will be looking at your pages.
These days, we even see a lot of discovery requests that include information related to social media accounts. Discovery is the process we use, basically, to figure out what the issues are in a particular case—like what the assets and liabilities are, what a good custody and visitation schedule would look like, whether fault exists, and more. It’s pretty important. Lately, I’ve seen a lot of discovery requests that ask for Facebook, Twitter, and other account log in information, or even profile print outs.
If the other side requests information from your social media accounts, we may very well have to comply. Don’t think you can get away with posting something without the other side finding out—it’ll probably be the first place they look!
2. You shouldn’t delete your social media profiles; deactivate if necessary.
If you’ve posted something questionable on social media, your first instinct is to just delete it. Right? Well, when it comes to a picture or a post, that may be easier said than done. For most social media sites, anything that you post becomes part of the public domain. You give Facebook (or whatever other site) ownership of your photo or post. You can delete it, but, most of the time, people can still find it (especially if they’ve saved the old URL or something). Try it. Post a picture, save the URL, and then delete the picture. You can still find it, right? So can your husband, or his attorney.
So, your next step may be to just delete your entire profile. Right? That’s the quickest and easiest thing to do, isn’t it? Just get rid of the whole troublesome thing. But that may also be easier said than done. In a recent case, a person who deleted a profile on Facebook was charged with obstructing discovery—which can have serious consequences. The details of that case aren’t very interesting, and I won’t bore you with them here. You just need to know that, if you’re found to have destroyed evidence, you can pay pretty dearly. I don’t need to tell you, that’s not really a position you want to be in.
If you have a social media account where you’ve posted things you’d prefer not to have discovered, you can deactivate it. It doesn’t delete the account entirely, but puts it in a sort of hold. You can reactivate it later, but at least the evidence, if it’s requested during discovery, hasn’t been destroyed. Meanwhile, your profile isn’t public, so it’s not searchable or indexed the same way as an active profile would be. It’s not foolproof, but at least it doesn’t subject you to any kind of ramifications later. Nothing is destroyed. (Of course, the better avenue would be to not post things that could get you in trouble in the first place.)
3. You want him to keep his job.
You may be angry with him, but, trust me, you want him to keep his job. If you go on social media and post unflattering things about him, you may jeopardize his career—and, simultaneously, your support.
Of course, it all depends on his job, but you would do well to remember that what you post matters, and it’s not just you and your friends who see it. If he’s in the military, though, talking about him committing adultery (especially if it was with someone else who is in the military, like an inferior officer), it’s not good. Likewise, anything that talks about drug or alcohol addiction or his general inability to function really doesn’t do him any professional favors. The way you’re feeling right now, you might not care, but, trust me, if he can’t pay child or spousal support because he’s unemployed, you’ll be even more upset.
You want to protect his ability to work and earn money because, in a lot of ways, it’s a lifeline for you. It protects his ability to pay you child and spousal support, and to do other things like take on his share of the marital debt, pay for life insurance to benefit the kids in the event of his death, and more. The more he earns, the more you can receive in support.
So be careful posting on social media sites about his misbehavior, and definitely don’t post any case-specific information. Even on sites that aren’t mainstream social media sites, you should beware. If anything allows you to post information about you, him, or your case, you should think twice about doing it. It can come back to bite you.
If you’re really angry and need to talk about it, it’s best to enlist the professional help of a therapist or licensed clinical social worker. They can help you deal with your feelings in a productive way, without damaging your husband’s professional career, your children, or yourself. Contrary to popular belief, it won’t hurt your case to talk to someone about it—and it may actually help it. Judges like people who can admit that they need help and seek it in a reasonable and productive way.
4. Only share things that make you appear in a positive light.
It’s best to be inactive on Facebook while your divorce or custody case is pending, but, if you must post, only post things that truly make you appear in a positive light.
I said that “truly” make you appear in a positive light for a reason. You’ll need to be discerning here. There are lots of things that people post that are meant to make you think of them positively, but there’s passive aggressiveness or vanity or immaturity lurking under there that make you think just the opposite. Have some common sense and, when in doubt, just don’t post.
If you must post, post pictures of happy kids. Post statuses about sleepovers or baking cookies or being generally happy. Don’t post things about nights out with your girlfriends (even if it’s positive; you don’t want to be seen as a party girl), dating new people (this sound be common sense), or anything of you in skimpy clothes. Avoid lyrics from depressing songs, or “mysterious” status updates designed to ask people what’s wrong or going on with you. Protect your image as a wonderful wife and mother, and don’t give the judge any other things to judge you on. I know it sounds sexist and unfair, but you’ve got to help your case by refusing to post anything that would make you seem immature, snarky, or abrasive. The subtext matters. It’s not just about what you’re saying; it’s also about what you’re implying. Be careful of what you’re posting, and make sure you’re only posting positive things.
5. Be careful of the picture and videos others “tag” you in.
You can’t control everything, and I get it. Sometimes, other people will tag you in pictures or post videos that you wish they wouldn’t. You can’t control what they post, but you can control what you participate in. If pictures or video are being taken, you can sit out, or politely request that the person not post anything of you on any social media site.
Like anything, consider carefully your level of trust for that person. Can you trust that they won’t post pictures? If not, don’t allow them to be taken, if it’s something you wouldn’t want shared with your husband’s divorce attorney. If you’re holding a drink, put it down first. Think ahead of time so that you won’t be caught with your pants down later—figuratively speaking.
6. Security settings alone aren’t enough. If it’s out there, it public.
I know, I know. You can set your privacy settings so that only your friends can see things. You can block people. You can do all sorts of things to make sure that people you don’t want to see your posts can’t see it. Will it work? Maybe. But I wouldn’t want to bet MY divorce or custody case on it. Sure, you can set privacy settings that are very restrictive, but I would seriously recommend you taking bigger steps towards preventing your information from spreading—like, for example, not posting it at all. And, anyway, has Ashley Madison taught us NOTHING?
I’d rather you didn’t post things, asked your friends not to post things, or deactivated your account, than rely on privacy settings alone. Sure, they help, but they aren’t enough. If you’re still posting things that are questionable, you’re adding fuel to the fire and ammunition to your husband’s attorney’s case. You don’t want to do that.
Before you post anything on any social media site, ask yourself, “Is this something I wouldn’t want my husband or his lawyer to see?” If so, don’t post it. If in doubt at all, don’t post it. Preferably, post nothing at all, but, if you must, make sure it’s something that is positive and only makes you look good. Be careful. Social media can get you.
For more information, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200 and we’ll help you set up a confidential appointment with one our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce attorneys. Good luck!