Assume not only that anything you write is public, but that the judge hearing your case will read it.
Email, text messaging, and social media are facts of modern life. They have many strengths: speed, convenience, and accessibility.
But these communication tools are double edged swords and sharp ones when an ill-considered message or postends up being used against you on the record in court during a family law matter such as a contested divorce, child support or child custody issue.
Ask any lawyer who handles family law cases and he or she can tell you about the time a horrifying email your client wrote in the heat of the moment resulted in those words being used against him or her, or a racy photo made a client out to look like an unfit parent.
How common is this? Recent data released by the American Association of Trial Lawyers shows that 81 percent of all divorce cases in the last year used some form of evidence from a social media site when presenting their case. The ATLA report shows that 27 percent of divorces involve spouses saying hurtful and damaging things about each other on their personal social pages.
You would think people would know better. But when four out of five people end up getting into legal trouble because of something they wrote or posted, there isn’t enough good sense to go around.
If you have a family law case going to court, or if you must deal with a contentious former spouse or any one else youhave a legal disagreement with, Lawyer Myra has some free legal advice.
Assume the judge in your case will read everything you write, post, text, or tweet, and will read it in the harshest possible way.
You may be newly single after many years of marriage. You may be enjoying a new social life and there’s nothing wrong with it. But this is not the time to go crazy on Facebook posting photos of your wild Vegas weekend,texting your friends about your exploits with the men you’ve met on dating websites, or tweeting your new body art. You get the idea.
You may think it’s all harmless fun. “Hey, I am an adult, and there is nothing wrong if I want to have a good time,” and you tell the world. But imagine someone your parents’ age who will be sitting in judgment of you. Will what you’ve done make you look like a more responsible adult who should be responsible for minor children, or less of one?
Don’t express your anger in writing
This is not the time to get anything off your chest, tell someone off, or express yourself. Don’t write anything in anger. Don’t start an argument in writing. Don’t cast blame on anyone. Don’t tee off on your boss or work.
You may have every reason in the world to lash out at an unfair or difficult situation, or difficult people. Back before we had email, people were advised to write a letter and let it all out, then put it away overnight and tear it up the next day. With email, texts and other forms of electronic communication, it is far too easy to hit “send” before you realize it, or end up sending it as a mistake. Try at least to wait overnight or better yet 24 hours before posting anything. Chances are you will seriously reconsider sending it.
If you think you might explode without expressing yourself, find some actual paper (remember paper?) and write it all out. Get a diary and make like Carrie Bradshaw.Be sure to keep it under lock and key.
Don’t trust your case and your online reputation to friends
Keep this in mind: if even one person knows or sees something, you have zero control about where the information ends up. No matter how trustworthy your friends are, they may not have set their privacy controls correctly. They can make mistakes when using social media. Even if they don’t, if they are deposed and forced to reveal information under oath, they may not be willing to commit perjury on your behalf.
And bottom line, people gossip. A friend thinks it’s harmless to tell “just one” other friend. And so does friend #2. And so on. Or consider this: You tell a trustworthy friend and then you have a falling out. It’s not hard to imagine how that person might get back at you.
Would you want your mother, your boss, or your children to see it?
Think about this for just a moment: Whatever you’re about to write or post, would you want your mother, your boss, or your children to read it? They wouldn’t even need to access the information directly. The minute a racy photo or trash talking email is used as evidence in court, it becomes public record. That’s a public record anyone can read, including your kids who might someday be curious about your divorce. Let’s not forget the news media, who also has access to these records.
Do yourself, your reputation and your bank account a favor. Stay off the smartphone, the iPad and the laptop until all of your legal issues are resolved. After that, whether you want to embarrass yourself is up to you.