The Influence of Social Media and Electronic Communications in Divorce
In today's society, many Americans split their lives between in-person interactions and social media communications, and not necessarily in that order. This tendency to put a large chunk of one's life online does not go away when a couple decides to divorce. Social media and other forms of electronic communication (email, text, etc.) can present issues during the divorce proceedings.
In the wake of divorce, emotions can take over and cause a person to say, write or do something out of character as a way to cope with the situation. Before social media, incidents of this type rarely made it to the courtroom. However, social media and electronic communication generally memorializes the behavior and therefore makes using an email or post as damaging evidence in the divorce case easier for the other spouse.
One example of how digital evidence is becoming more prevalent in divorce cases, and in litigation, involves an Illinois man who recently sued his ex-wife for violations of federal wiretapping and privacy laws. The lawsuit claims the ex-wife gained unauthorized access to his email accounts and used them in their divorce case, which spanned from 2011 to 2016, to get a better settlement.
Consider the following ways this type of information can hurt a divorce case, and how to minimize or eliminate the potential impact of such evidence.
How Social Media/Electronic Evidence Can Affect a Divorce Case
Venting frustrations over a spouse or posting pictures of daily activities are so commonplace for many people that they rarely think about the negative consequences. However, in divorce, this is the just the type of information the other side wants to use as leverage.
While any area of divorce could be affected by information held or sent online, the two areas most affected are property division and child custody. Courts divide property according to what is most just under the facts of a specific case, and the dissipation of marital assets is one particular factor in this assessment that can result in an unequal division.
Images, posts or emails related to expensive vacations, buying gifts for a new romantic interest, or high-stakes gambling are all examples of social media evidence a party could present to argue for a greater share of the marital estate.
In the area of parental responsibilities, the Court looks at the best interests of the child, which is determined by a number of factors. Digital evidence of disparaging remarks, especially if repeated or frequent, or behavior that could expose the child to dangerous or inappropriate situations, such as excessive drinking or drug use, could influence the Court's decision on this issue.
Additionally, if a party is armed with enough damaging information, he or she may be pushed into a quick settlement with unfavorable terms to avoid exposing potentially embarrassing information to the Court and the public record. This reality is why limiting, or even eliminating, social media use during pending litigation is of critical importance.
Mitigating the Potential Effect
Regular social media users will not like this advice; however, the best way to avoid the negative implications of social media is not to post anything until the divorce is finalized. If refraining from social media use is not possible, the content of any post should be as innocuous and neutral as possible so no inferences may be drawn. In other words, do not write or post pictures of anything one would be uncomfortable sharing with a stranger.
As for emails, this is a necessary form of communication for most people. Yet limiting a spouse's ability to access these communications if divorce is in picture is prudent. Changing passwords and making sure to logout and close all windows open to one's email account is one of the more effective ways to prevent the vast majority of unauthorized accesses.
Finally, texts are a frequent source of detrimental information, and a divorcing spouse must take pains to neutralize the content and limit the recipients of these messages to reduce the chance of them appearing as evidence in Court.
Talk to an Illinois Divorce Attorney
Divorce is hard, but do not make it more difficult by giving your spouse extra ammunition to use against you. The Law Office of Nicholas W. Richardson, P.C. is well-versed in all the nuances of divorce, and can help you protect your interests and obtain the best possible result. Reach out to a passionate Arlington Heights family law attorney at our office for help today.