When your marriage has fallen apart, it seems natural to share your feelings with your friends — and increasingly, the way we do that is on social media. Whether you’re venting anger or celebrating a fresh start, you should be very careful what you share, and how, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the other websites and apps.
Don’t think that just because you’ve blocked your soon-to-be ex, you’re in the clear. You’d be surprised at what information can make its way to your spouse, or to your spouse’s attorney. A good rule of thumb is that you should never share anything on social media that you wouldn’t be willing to say in front of a judge at a divorce trial.
How can you protect yourself from the consequences of your life online? Read on to find out.
Get an Electronic Divorce First
Spouses often share devices and even passwords. You’ll want to stop that right away. On the one hand, changing passwords and safeguarding your laptop may alert your spouse to the fact that you’re contemplating divorce, or at the very least that you’re hiding something. On the other hand, you simply have no reasonable expectation of privacy if you share passwords. Also, stop using a shared computer if you haven’t already; your spouse may be able to access the history of your activity.
However, you should not delete or alter existing posts in social media, as a court may view that as deliberate destruction of evidence. Just deactivate the accounts. Besides, even if you think you’ve wiped something incriminating off the internet, you don’t know who has a screenshot that could later reveal that you have said or done something that reflects poorly on you, as well as to have lied about it or attempted to cover it up.
It’s Not Just What You Say; It’s What You Do (And What Others Do)
You’re smart enough not to post a status update that says, “Heading off to Vegas for the weekend with my girlfriend (don’t tell my wife)!” But you may be using social media without even realizing it, using your Facebook info to log into another site, for instance. Some people have even used account information for their social media to sign up for dating sites.
And it’s not just your own social media use you must worry about. You may have blocked your own posts from everyone you don’t want to see them, but if you’re tagged in someone else’s photo, or even if you’re just pictured, say, embracing someone who is not your spouse, that can come back to haunt you. Everybody’s got a phone, and every phone has a camera, and every camera can upload pictures to social media quicker than you can say, “lost custody.”
A colleague had a client who suspected her husband was having an affair with a mutual acquaintance. His social media was locked up tight, and the wife couldn’t see it. The suspected girlfriend, however, had wide-open privacy settings, such that the wife, was able to see, and take screenshots of the girlfriend’s posts. This included a picture of her snuggling on the husband’s lap and a status update in which she gushed about the bracelet he’d bought her.
Even if posts are not incriminating in and of themselves, they may give your spouse and his or her attorney ideas to pursue during the discovery phase of your case. In the example above, the wife’s attorney was able to sleuth out a secret bank account the husband was keeping, and the husband wound up having to repay the marital estate for the money he had spent on the girlfriend.
How not to get burned by social media in your divorce
The best advice is simply: don’t use it, with the possible exception of career and professional networking sites like LinkedIn, where you don’t really post personal information. Ask your friends not to tag you in pictures, posts, or tweets. And since you can’t control what other people ultimately choose to take pictures of or post, try not to place yourself in a situation you wouldn’t want brought to your divorce judge’s attention.