Facebook: Making Life Easier for Divorce Attorneys

Protecting your privacy is the better part of valor, or should be anyway. With social media networking now commonplace on websites like Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, GoogleBuzz, YouTube, to name only a few, things just keep getting easier for divorce attorneys to collect damaging evidence against the other spouse. Easy Pickins' on Facebook. In a recent interview, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers president, Linda Lea M. Viken, had this to say about social media in divorce: "Facebook has become an open book of people's lives… [parties tend to] write things as though they were having a conversation with one friend, so they say the most outrageous and private things. You can't get better evidence than what comes from their own mouths or their own computers." Posting pictures and personal information about yourself (what you've been doing, where you've been going, who you've been spending time with, what you've been buying) on a public forum like Facebook, is an open invitation for attorneys to collect evidence against you for the benefit of their client. The evidence isn't just collected for purposes of the initial divorce, it is useful in any family law case including child custody and visitation, or support. And it isn't just Facebook. Social networking evidence includes uploaded videos, text messages, cell phone activity, Global Positioning System (GPS) data, all of which provide plenty of fodder for divorce lawyers to work with. In a 2010 academy survey, 81% of the 1,600 attorney members used evidence gathered from social media in their family law cases. It is safe to assume, then, that in your case the opposing attorney will look to social media as a resource for admissible evidence against you. In the Good Ole' Days. There was a time not long all that long ago when collecting damaging evidence against a spouse required hiring a private investigator. This could involve following the other spouse around for days or weeks, staking out places, interviewing locals, snapping photographs, and collecting any proof of bad behavior. Hiring a PI to collect evidence is still useful in certain circumstances, but it is time-consuming and expensive. It is out of reach for many who do not have sufficient means to pay the hourly rate and daily expenses of a private sleuth. Today, a fair amount of the work is done voluntarily by the very person being investigated! One admission after another is posted on social media sites every minute, of every hour, of every day — people just don't exercise discretion when it comes to posting the details of their lives. Today, if the wife's lawyer wants to know where the husband has been spending his weekends, a few minutes searching on Facebook is likely to yield recent results that can be useful in court. But I Didn't Friend Them! So you understand how easy it is to collect your private information, you don't necessarily need to friend someone for them to have access to information about you. All it takes is for someone to post something about you: your co-worker, your neighbor, your children or another family member, your best buddy. Anyone you friend could share your post or information about you with others. All a divorce attorney really needs is a compromising statement or photograph that establishes where you were, who you were with, or what you were doing. Facebook Posts Can Help Settle Disputes. You may find yourself in a weakened position during the negotiations of a divorce when Facebook evidence is used to undermine your character or show that you lied. Many people will settle a matter — even when clearly to their disadvantage — rather than have the information presented as evidence at trial to a judge. Explaining away a wild weekend party in San Diego will be difficult when the issue before the court is primary physical custody of your children. Lies and Lost Credibility. When you make a statement in your divorce, and the other party has lawfully obtained social media evidence showing that you lied, then you lose credibility with the court and with the child custody evaluator. Not only that, the exposure can result in personal and professional embarrassment and humiliation. The information gathered about a party must be obtained lawfully to be submitted in a court of law. When a party has reason to believe that relevant evidence requires the collection of information under a subpoena, then online activities beyond social networking can be gathered from the company providing the online service. This is possible with interactive gaming and other online entertainment providers. Ms. Viken noted one case in which a subpoena was used to gather information about a parent's online activity with a gaming website. While the parent was supposed to be home-schooling the child, she was instead playing the online game "World of Warcraft" for up to 10 hours at a session. That evidence led to primary legal custody going to the other parent. If you don't want to be characterized in court by your online conduct, then be discrete in your online activities. Better yet, stay offline until your case is resolved and always exercise caution thereafter. To read more about this subject, take a look at a few of our previous discussions about social media evidence in divorce. Anything You Post Can Be Used Against You in Court of Family Law and also Attorneys Collect Evidence from Social Media for Use in Family Law Cases. Here at the Law Offices of Scott David Stewart, our family law attorneys have earned the trust and respect of clients in cases ranging from simple divorce to complex property divisions, child custody, visitation, and child relocation disputes. Let us put excellence to work for you. Contact us today and arrange for an initial consultation with an experienced member of our family law team. We'll get you started on the right path and, remember, do be careful about what you post! Resources: New York Times: Divorce Lawyers' New Friend: Social Networks http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/15/fashion/weddings/divorce-lawyers-new-friend-social-networks.html?_r=4 American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers http://www.aaml.org/

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2 Responses to Facebook: Making Life Easier for Divorce Attorneys

  1. Graceland says:

    Superbly illumianitng data here, thanks!

  2. Gerrie says:

    I think you hit a bullseye there fleals!

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