By now, I’m sure that most of you have read how Facebook, and every similar social networking site, makes posting “too much information” on the internet just too easy. Do a quick Google search for “Facebook and Divorce” and you’ll find links to many articles discussing the correlation of postings on internet social networks to an increase in divorce. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers says that 81 percent of its members have used or gone up against evidence in court plucked from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn over the last five years.
Consider the following situations:
- Mom denies in court that she smokes marijuana but posts pot-smoking photos of herself on Facebook;
- Dad claims minimal income from his small business and various “cash only” side jobs he performs but places posts and photos on Facebook of himself on fishing trips, gambling at the riverboat, and with new vehicles, including a Harley Davidson motorcycle; his new girlfriend also posts pictures of some of the gifts she has received from Dad;
- During a custody dispute where Dad is alleging that child’s grades are falling, child is not receiving proper medical treatment, that Mom is allowing numerous men to have access to the child, and that Mom is not adequately supervising child, Mom posts profanity laced messages and pictures of herself partying on different vacations with numerous men in very “R-rated” poses and degrees of clothing;
- Dad denies Mom’s claims that his drinking is excessive or that he has ever jeopardized the children’s safety, yet Dad posts photos on Facebook showing him usually holding a bottle of beer at family functions or out with his drinking buddies appearing highly intoxicated; and
- After a hearing early in a custody proceeding, Mom posts an update on her case on Facebook and uses profanity to describe the Judge who made a ruling against her.
The growing influence of social networking sites is not limited to divorces or custody battles, though. Posted pictures and comments are now being used as evidence in Domestic Protection Order hearings, Personal Injury cases, and even Criminal cases around the globe.
Recently, one of our attorneys was in a local Domestic Relations Court defending a client against a Protection Order that was requested by his child’s mother. Our client happens to be in the military, and he was trying to obtain a “Top Security” clearance. His child’s mother had flippantly and untruthfully filed for a Temporary Protection Order against our client as a way to prove her loyalty to her new boyfriend. After our client had broken up with her, she falsely claimed that she feared for her safety, although there was no evidence of any violence or threats between her and our client. Fortunately, we had a “social networking paper trail” of her texts, emails and Facebook messages. The messages and posts showed that she had intensely pursued and communicated with our client during the time period when he was allegedly making her fear for her safety. Once the Judge read her postings and messages showing how angry she was with our client for dumping her, the Judge dismissed the case, with prejudice, concluding she was not credible!
While it might be fun to get some “digs” in against an Ex or make announcements to friends and family about the new automobile, vacations, and relationships, doing so during a divorce, custody battle, or other legal proceeding is very imprudent.
Whether you have an ongoing case or not, the key is to think before you post!! Ask yourself if those negative comments that you’re about to post or those pictures you’re about to upload of you passed out at a party could somehow be used against you in court. If they could, resist the temptation and don’t post them! You have to assume that your one-time “significant other,” or his/her friends, will print every negative comment or confession they ever see about you and that his/her attorney will one day enter those pictures and posts as exhibits at a hearing against you. Remember, search engines are constantly indexing your comments and photos, which means that the things you might have wanted to be private actually became very public information.
Finally, here are five (5) common sense tips that can help prevent you from getting burned with your online posting:
- Don’t discuss anything that’s going on in court between you and your lawyer – What is discussed by you and your attorney needs to stay between you and your attorney.
- Fight the urge to trash people online – What you say can and will be used against you. So, although it can be fun to bad-mouth certain people who have hurt you, in front of all of your mutual friends, don’t do it! The ex, your child’s other parent, attorneys, and judges can all read. Plus, you risk being hammered with a defamation suit or a Restraining Order!
- Pictures are worth a thousand words – Actually, they can be priceless when used as evidence in Court, so don’t make the other side’s case that much more easier to win.
- You can block or “unfriend” but you can’t hide – Always remember that those mutual friends you turn to in times of crisis might be friends with your ex, so don’t assume the things you post are limited to just a few people. Play it safe and just don’t post things you don’t want everyone in the world to see.
- Don’t lie, make confessions or admissions, or post links to pages that you don’t want your ex or his/her attorney to use – “Just Say No” to posting items that are so obvious. We attorneys really don’t enjoy facing any of these things in Court.
So in conclusion, use your brain and think very carefully about ANYTHING that you post on any social networking sites on the internet. If in doubt, just don’t post it! The possible ramifications could be huge!
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John C. Meehling
Attorney John C. Meehling is a Family Law Attorney from Dayton, Ohio, and contributor to the Ohio Family Law Blog. Attorney Meehling recently joined the Dayton law firm of Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues on November. 1, 2010.