Tips for Using Social Media During a Divorce
Many attorneys are starting to advise their clients to immediately delete their Facebook accounts upon filing for divorce or beginning a custody battle. While that might not be necessary, there are some definite issues to be aware of when using social media sites (Facebook, MySpace, Google+, Twitter, Linked In, etc.).
Limiting Access to Your Profile
A good first step in evaluating your approach to social media during your case is to check your privacy settings to ensure that only your close friends and family can see your posts and photos. However, do not assume that just because your former spouse is not listed as one of your friends or followers, that he or she does not have access to your page. Keep in mind that your former spouse may have access to your page through a mutual friend or through your child's account. Always assume that anything you post could be read by the other party.
In addition, if your children have access to your Facebook profile, you want to be very careful not to demean the other parent (and that parent's family members as well) in your posts or say anything about the divorce/separation. Doing so is not only harmful to the children who are now witnessing the conflict, but it can also be used against you in court to show that you're not supporting the children's relationship with the other parent.
Think Before You Post
Parties in a divorce or child custody battle can, and often do, look at their former spouse's pages and try to use that information against them in custody and support hearings. Information that you have posted can come back to bite you in several ways:
- If you have photos showing that you were drunk at several parties recently, that is not going to help you when you're fighting for custody of your children.
- If you are claiming that you have no income, it will cause major damage to your credibility if your spouse provides a Facebook post to the court where you are saying "I'm sorry I haven't gotten back to you, work has been really crazy lately".
- If you are requesting additional child or spousal support (or trying to defend yourself against such a request), photos or comments about your new car or expensive vacation aren't going to support your claim that you can't afford your basic living expenses.
Review What Your Friends Post
Just because you have followed the rules and kept your posts professional, that does not mean that the coast is clear. Keep in mind that when your friends post photos, tag you, or reference you in comments, those posts show up on your page. If you see an unflattering or damaging photo of yourself, ask your friend to remove the photo. If your friend is not willing to do so, minimize the damage by un-tagging yourself from the photo or post.
Review What Your Children Post
There is no minimum age in order to obtain a Twitter account. Facebook, MySpace and Google+ require children to be at least 13 years old before they are eligible to have their own profile. However, there is no verification of a child's actual age when they sign up for an account, and a child can easily substitute in an earlier birth year in order to open an account. With your children's accounts, there are several issues that need to be considered:
- Is your child old enough to have a social media account? The Federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) mandates that websites that collect information about users (like Facebook, MySpace, and Google+) aren’t allowed to enroll anyone under the age of 13. Accordingly, if your child is under the age of 13, it's going to be hard to explain to the court why you've agreed to let him or her have a Facebook or MySpace page.
- Does your child have adequate privacy control on his/her page? Children often don't think of the consequences of their posts. If your child posts that he or she is going to Hawaii with you over Spring Break, he or she may have alerted others that your home is going to be unoccupied for a significant amount of time. You also want to ensure that strangers cannot obtain or view photos of your children or obtain information about where they live or attend school.
- Do you know what your child is posting? Make sure that you are friends with your child and that you follow his or her tweets/posts so that you are aware of what they are posting and what their friends are posting about them.
As long as you remain vigilant about keeping your communication civil and making sure that harmful information is not posted on your social media sites (and your child's), you should be able to maintain your social media connections. Staying connected to your friends and family can be an enormous help when you're going through something as tough as a divorce or contested custody battle. Just make sure those connections help you through the process rather than hurt you.