This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.
A wall post here, a tagged photo there – in a session on Facebook, users are capable of sharing the intimate details of their lives with anyone who is paying attention. If you’re the one posting, expect your soon-to-be-ex’s attorney to be watching closely. A recent survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers said that social media is cited in as many as 20% of today’s divorces. Now more than ever, online sharing might just be the reason your relationship status goes from “in a relationship” to “it’s complicated.”
Think before you click: We often forget that the information posted on Facebook is public. Your information can be accessed and used against you. It’s easy to change your privacy settings to ensure that only your friends see your newest status update, but that doesn’t mean that status won’t fall into the wrong hands. And it isn’t as easy to recognize which of your postings could be incriminating evidence. When it’s just you facing your computer, flaunting your new relationship might feel very good, particularly in the midst of ending a bad relationship But remember when Joseph bragged about his multicolored coat? Don’t make the same mistake. Watch the rants, too.
Posts that can come back to haunt you: A dated photo can prove that you were somewhere you claimed not to be. A comment about your new lover is practically a confession. The trip to Cabo can figure into an assets dispute. And the wild night out can have a judge wondering just how fit a parent you are. Your online postings can even become evidence of infidelity, which could put your character in question when determining matters of custody.
Networking no-no’s: Be cautious of what you post. Disparaging comments about your spouse reflect poorly on you. Watch your friends’ posts. Their references to your wild party could scream “unsuitable” in court. Be especially careful when posting pictures of your children, as your spouse and his or her attorney could twist the meaning of innocent photographs. And if your children are on Facebook, remember they can see your post as well. You want to be especially cognizant of their feelings. You may consider temporarily deleting your social network accounts as a precaution, even if you don’t think there’s anything incriminating.
Sound advice: When interviewing a lawyer, ask about his or her experience with social networking. A good divorce lawyer should know how to make the most of information available on social networking sites in order to advance your legal case. Always bear in mind that honesty is the best policy – in court, of course, and online. Never let online evidence contradict what you have testified to. For example, photos on Facebook of a shiny, new convertible make a financial hardship claim ring hollow. Likewise a LinkedIn profile can bolster your claim that you are looking for work.
Before signing out: Keep in mind that your spouse is just as likely to “overshare” as you are. Then Facebook evidence could work to your advantage. Now that’s worth liking.
*Andrew Zashin writes about law for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is a co-managing partner with Zashin & Rich, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.