Social media is changing the world. It's also transforming the family law universe.
Is Facebook Really a Homewrecker? Every year, an increasing number of American lawyers are citing the leading social media website, Facebook, as a central player in divorce litigation. It's not hard to see how an online repository of highly personal photographs, updates and reflections could become a go-to resource for angry soon-to-be former spouses! But a recent U.K. Guardian article went so far as to cite Facebook as an actual cause of divorce: A 2010 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) found that four out of five lawyers reported an increasing number of divorce cases citing evidence derived from social networking sites in the past five years, with Facebook being the market leader. Two-thirds of the lawyers surveyed said that Facebook was the “primary source” of evidence in divorce proceedings, while MySpace with 15% and Twitter with 5% lagged far behind. Those statistics included not just evidence of infidelity but other legal battles, such as child custody cases in which parents deny using illicit drugs but boast of smoking marijuana on their Facebook pages. Concluding that Facebook actually engenders divorce isn't really the same thing as simply observing social media's growing evidentiary role. Spouses prone to bad behavior may have found other, more traditional ways to do it without Facebook's help. Divorce certainly predates the Internet! I'm sure this debate will continue as our lives become even more integrated online. What cannot be denied? Divorcing spouses need to exercise sound discretion when using social media tools. Naturally, the boundaries of this area of the law are still evolving on an almost daily basis. In Connecticut, a court recently ordered divorcing spouses to exchange Facebook passwords so that their attorneys could conduct discovery. This past summer, a California county bar committee determined that a lawyer's attempt to “friend” a represented party on Facebook was ethically inappropriate. New Jersey spouses should err on the safe side and think twice before posting any financial, highly-personal or “adult” content on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and other social media platforms. Even a seemingly harmless “status update” announcing an employment development, personal injury award, or routine domestic problem could be introduced in open court. It's also a great idea to familiarize yourself with Facebook's privacy settings and take the necessary steps to control other user's access to your page. You wouldn't permit guests to wander everywhere in your home unattended, would you? So why should your online home operate differently? Ultimately, family court litigants (or any litigants, for that matter) need to be extra-cautious traversing the digital realm. The stakes are high and your future may depend on it; there's no “unlike” button at trial for something you might have abstained from posting online with the benefit of hindsight! Are you considering divorce in New Jersey? Do you have questions or concerns about the process? Contact DeMichele & DeMichele, PC today to set up a consultation.