For those in the midst of the process, divorce or legal separation is, almost universally, a stressful and challenging time. During a divorce or legal separation, it is understandable to want to share experiences and feelings with friends and family members. You may turn to social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to vent your frustrations or to ask for advice. As you post your thoughts, questions, and photos of your life, it is important to keep in mind the ways that your social media presence may impact your divorce or legal separation. Following are a few ways you can protect yourself and minimize the potential negative impact that social media can have, during a divorce or legal separation.
Do not post anything negative about your spouse, online. At best, the Court will view disparaging social media comments as inappropriate and emotionally immature. However, if you have children, there is an added danger that your kids could stumble across the posting or be shown what you wrote, by friends or family members. Reading negative comments posted by one parent about another can be very emotionally damaging, to children. That you posted such comments will create a perception that you did not put the needs of the children first. Further, one of the statutory factors regarding legal custody (decision-making) relates to the parents’ ability to cooperate with one another; launching into a public excoriation could lead the Judge to believe that you cannot work together, as parents, and could therefore influence a custody determination. Finally, under certain circumstances, your comments could be deemed harassing, which exposes you to a restraining order petition filed by your spouse.
Do not post any material online that you would not want your spouse and/or your spouse’s attorney to see. It is important to remember that your spouse and his or her attorney will almost certainly be checking into your online presence, to look for information that could strengthen their position in the divorce. Social media profiles, posts and photos can be easily accessed. All of these (as well as text messages and emails) can be used as evidence, in court. For example, posting pictures of a lavish vacation or tweeting about receiving a significant bonus could call the poster’s income into question. As another example, if being alcohol-free is important to the custody and placement aspects of a case, it is not a good idea to post selfies from a party or a bar. Also, keep in mind that many social media sites will provide detailed information related to where you are, when you are there, and with whom you spend time. As such, use good judgment, in all respects.
Ask friends and family for advice and support, but take stories of their divorces with several grains of salt. Do not assume that your experience with your divorce or separation will be like other people’s experiences, with theirs. Every state’s laws are different, and within the same jurisdiction or state, every set of facts is unique. The unique facts of any case have the largest roles to play in a case’s outcome, and there truly is no “typical” process or result. Having unreasonable expectations of the process can cause undue conflict, sabotage settlement negotiation and result in more stress and added attorney fees, in the long run. Trust that your attorney knows the law. Ask your attorney questions, to make sure that you understand your options and their potential costs and benefits.
An extra word of warning is necessary, with respect to dating site profiles. Wisconsin is a no-fault divorce state, which means that the Court cannot and will not assign blame to one spouse or the other, as to why you are getting divorced. In other words, whether or not a spouse has “cheated” does not figure into the outcome of the process. However, for obvious reasons, the way that you present yourself on a dating web site could have negative repercussions. For example, if you are dishonest about your employment, income, marital status or children, this calls your credibility into question. If custody and placement of children are at issue, the potential consequences are more significant, in that your character as a parent will be under a microscope. Keep in mind, it is generally not advisable to introduce children to a significant other, while a divorce is still pending. This is especially true if you are introducing the children to multiple partners, in a short period of time. Never post pictures of your children on dating web sites. Be aware that any information you do disclose on a dating web site will be available to the other party, in your case.
In many ways, it is best to simply take a break from social media, while a divorce or legal separation is pending. Making your profile “private” or blocking your spouse from viewing your account is often insufficient. Generally, at the very least, your spouse will be able to see what mutual friends post as reactions to what you post, and you also run the risk of someone connected to you revealing your “private” posts. Your social media posts could also be subpoenaed, or requested as part of a discovery process.
In our connected world, taking a months’-long break from social media can be very difficult. If you do maintain a social media presence during a divorce or legal separation, always keep your communication respectful and G-rated. Think about how a Judge would see your posts, and ask yourself whether what you are posting could negatively impact your children.
We have a great deal of experience with these issues, and we would be happy to speak with you further, to assess your unique situation and help you to avoid social media pitfalls, as you navigate your family transition. Feel free to call our office, to set up a free telephone consultation.