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Social Media and the Family Courts

Social Media and the Family Courts

If you are involved in a divorce, a child support case, a child custody/visitation case or any other family court situation you need to reconsider your use of social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Information that you put up on your social media page, or a friends, can be used against you in a negotiation or a court hearing. The best way to handle social media when you are involved in a Family Court situation is to not use it at all. Many lawyers will tell you not to post to any of these sites until your case is over. If quitting social media is not an option for you, here are a few tips to help you get through your court case without having to answer for poor social media decisions.

Security Settings: Whether or not you are involved in a court proceeding, it is a good idea to put security settings on your social media page. These can be used to limit the people who have everyday access to the information that you post. If you get involved in a lawsuit change all the privacy settings on your social media site in order to make it harder to find information you post on the internet. This being said, making your page private does not protect what you write there. Your posts can be seen through mutual friends, through sharing, and you can be ordered to produce the contents of your posts by the court if they feel it is relevant to the case at hand.

Friends: If you are in a divorce, even if you have de-friended your soon to be ex; there will be someone you remain friends with who is still friends with your ex. Even if you think that they are your friend first, information will be passed along, and the opposing party can get a hold of it. Think of everyone you are friends with, who will have immediate access to your post or comment, before you write it. It is also a good idea to occasionally look at some of your friend’s pages. What your friends post can be just as damaging as something that you posted yourself. Speak to your friends about using discretion, or just not posting anything that makes reference to you until your case is over.

Smart Posting: I cannot stress enough that you have to THINK BEFORE YOU POST ANYTHING ON THE INTERNET. The internet is forever. A post that seems like a good idea after a few drinks on a Friday night can cause your problems months later at a hearing. Posts about drinking, drug use, or other activities can be brought up during negotiation, mediation or in front of a judge. These topics will be weighed on by the court whenever child placement, custody or visitation is at issue. [1]

In addition to leaving out the details of your weekend bender, never insult the other party or the judge via social media. In fact, don’t talk about your court case on social media sites. Remember, even if something is deleted off your page it can be found later.

Photos: Carefully monitor the photos that you and your friends post onto the internet. Something that you may find funny or harmless may be offensive, inappropriate or seem like a dangerous situation to someone else. These photos can then be used to discredit and embarrass you later on. If you have kids, it is time to stop posting pictures of yourself doing keg stands or attending risqué parties.

If you have children and you like to post pictures of them, use your discretion before posting. Remember not everyone has the same sense of humor. People are easily offended, and when you are involved in a family court case, the other party is looking for ways to discredit you. Don’t give them an easy way to get a step up on you.

Money: Besides the obvious insults, threats, and irresponsible behavior that you shouldn’t post about; you should also refrain from posting too much about money. Once a divorce begins there is a restraining order stopping each party from spending money that is not spent in the normal course of living. This is to protect the marital property (money) that will be later split between the parties. For this reason, don’t put up pictures or posts regarding new purchases. Also, try not to “check in” at every location that you visit as showing up at different bars, restaurants and stores will give the other party the beginning of an argument that may prolong the divorce process. If your case involves child support be very careful what you post about money, especially if you are having difficulty paying your current child support order. The judge is not likely to favor your argument if the other party can produce pictures or statuses that claim you have a new TV, go out every night or just booked a vacation.

The Past: Our pasts can often come back to haunt us and social media is no exception. Many people have had a Facebook account for a long time, many since college. Go back and clean up your page. Remember, the things that you delete will never be completely gone, but they will be harder to find, especially if the other party doesn’t know to look for them. Pretend you are applying for a job and take off anything that may be embarrassing or compromising to you at a later time.

When is it OK to go back to social media: If you did stop using social media during your case, be careful not to go right back to it the day after the hearing. Many Family Court matters can be brought back to court for modifications years after the original case is brought. If your case involves support, visitation or custody of minor children, the case can be brought back in front of a judge anytime until the children turn eighteen (18) years of age. So make sure to ask your lawyer before returning to social media after a court date in order to ensure that your case is over and it is safe to be posting again.

In review if you can’t see yourself completely giving up social media at least be smart:

1. Have security settings on your account;

2. Don’t talk about the other party or your court case on social media sites;

3. Don’t post anything, or let your friends post anything, that may contradict an argument that you will later try to use in court;

4. Remember that the internet is forever so think before you post. If you are not sure whether something is appropriate, don’t post it.

5. If you have any questions or doubts regarding what to post, speak to your attorney – they can help.

[1] This also applies to other cases – don’t post pictures of yourself skiing when you are the plaintiff in a personal injury suit looking for damages due to knee injury.

WBBlegal on Google+ February 24, 2014