One of the first things I talk to my new divorce clients about is their online presence. Before we even think about filing for divorce, I tell them their MySpace, Facebook, and other social pages need to be cleansed and purified. I tell them we’ll just have to hope their spouse hasn’t been keeping copies of their pages and pictures they’ve posted.
Better yet, just delete them all. Can’t bear to lose all your “friends” you’ve worked so hard to accumulate? Then at least delete everything off your pages. All your pictures, notes, tags, comments, bio, interests, favorites, everything.
What’s the big deal?
Because sometimes the information you put on your page can come back to haunt you in ways you might not expect. Sometimes what can be found online either leads to, or enhances other evidence.
Most examples are predictable. One of the grounds for divorce in Tennessee is “Habitual Drunkenness”, and if your spouse uses this, suddenly all those pictures of you and your friends at the bar become a serious liability, even if it was the only time you’d been out of the house in weeks.
In another example, a woman files for divorce, then asks the judge for temporary support from the husband while the case is proceeding. In her requests she lays out the details of her desperate existence where she has neither the time nor money to adequately clothe and feed her poor children.
How unfortunate for her when her husband shows up to court with a copy of her recent Facebook status that reads “… is back from a shopping trip in LA!”. Add that to his son’s tweet, “Just got a new Xbox!!!!”. Furthermore, this leads to the discovery that while she was out of town shopping, she hired a babysitter to watch the kids rather than just let them spend time with their father.
All of a sudden, not only does her situation not seem so desperate, to the judge she comes off a little…. well… rotten.
I’m too smart, you’ll never find me on Facebook!
Don’t be so sure. There are internet investigators who’s business is tracking down online users. There are also web archives that store copies of old web pages, so even if you’ve cleansed your web pages as your lawyer suggests, the damaging information may still be available. Your best bet is to assume that if you ever put something on the internet, the opposing lawyer can find it.
Believe me when I say that it’s not fun when your spouse’s lawyer sends a copy of your profile they found on a dating website. It’s even worse when a note is attached that reads, “I think your client may have understated her weight.”
Snarky comments from opposing counsel aside, the lesson to be learned is while these social web sites have dramatically broadened our ability to reach out and connect with current and past friends, they have also exponentially increased the ability for gossip and damaging news to spread.
Furthermore, you may think you’re safe because your security settings are high, or your Facebook page is only viewable by friends. That’s not a bad move, but it only takes one mutual friend who is willing to let your spouse view your profile on their computer, and you’re sunk.
So what can I do?
If you are going to continue to use social media sites during your divorce, you need to think long and hard about what you post online. Your best bet is to stop using them altogether and express your hurt and anger the old fashioned way, meaning to trusted friends, family members, or a counselor who has a legal duty to keep your conversations private.