You hear a fair bit about “stay off social media” when you’re separating, but can social media sometimes actually be very helpful during this time?
People’s active social network usage has exploded and social media is a fairly significant part of personal and professional lives these days. And courts have increasingly shown their willingness to uphold evidence from social networking sites in both criminal and family law matters. Warnings about using social media when divorcing therefore come with good reason: there can be serious lifechanging consequences. For example parents shown in images engaged in risky behaviours around kids could indicate a lack of judgment or parental capacity, which could have an effect on custody proceedings.
Social media effect on relationships
The jury is out on whether our constant connectivity is having an effect on our relationships, marriages and divorces. Some camps say social media overuse is similar to an addiction. When social media use becomes something of a compulsion, it’s undoubtedly going to be an unhealthy distraction in a relationship. It means being less mentally present in that relationship and investing less energy in the here and now. It may increase paranoia and excessive monitoring activity, chipping away at trust. Sometimes it increases the temptation of getting in contact with old exes, or being vulnerable to the lure of online dating. The unrealistic standards that some social media engenders—that Instagram highlight reel—can definitely increase the attraction of the unavailable and generate feelings of envy and dissatisfaction. It’s unsurprising that overuse of social media, when it becomes a source of tension in a relationship, correlates with cheating and breaking up.
But for some partners, it can clearly be really beneficial. They may use social media as a communication tool between them, keeping in touch when travelling and cheering from afar, or sharing moments, calendars and news, or can connect more with their partner’s friends. Although there has been some research overseas that when social media use increases, marriage quality declines, links don’t prove a cause, so it could also be that as marriage quality decrease, people seek out more social media.
In truth, social media itself is neither good nor bad, and its impact on a relationship probably depends much more on the quality of the relationship than anything else, and the couple’s ability to set boundaries and communicate with openness and honesty.
Social media during divorce
For those divorcing amicably, social media is often the way to announce your divorce. But it also has its other benign purposes for those on a journey of separation.
When they feel up to dating, the internet enables separating people to play around with a new self as they experiment with drafting profiles for dating websites (the problem is obviously when people do so while still married…)
People who are separating might use divorce blogs and websites for support and connection. For many people sharing their grief is therapeutic and they find communicating with strangers undergoing similar life challenges to be helpful on the road to recovery. As a platform for venting, the internet can’t be rivalled. But consider how much you need to share online.
Protecting children’s privacy
If your ex indulges in too much ‘sharenting’ for your liking, consider including an agreement about social media posting involving kids. You may be able to agree with your co-parent about limits on types of photos.
Social media for evidence
During divorce, social media can also be helpful for collecting evidence but this is obviously a double-edged sword. Social media can be very useful in exposing certain types of information—for example if your ex took physical property from your home, making it hard to track, but was unable to help themselves from posting a photo, or just mentioning an expensive holiday or new luxury item in passing. Plenty of individuals have been caught out in criminal cases in recent times, posing with expensive undisclosed assets on social media, suggesting many people still don’t understand that information released onto the internet can never be controlled again. You can’t block everyone, and things can never be completely wiped. Forensic computer experts are increasingly being used in family law discovery. The only way to protect yourself is to censor your use—but you can’t always censor the behaviour of others, and even posts from family and friends can be used as evidence. The balancing act is to protect yourself while also collecting info about your spouse if necessary–lawfully.
It may well be helpful to discover information on hidden assets or conspicuous spending habits that could help you in a property settlement or spouse maintenance claim, but be aware that the law is continuously evolving regarding social media use. Simply having access to a social media account and its password doesn’t give you the automatic right to access information. The danger is in indulging in any behaviours that will move the case into criminal court, such as with revenge porn or stalking. The safest bet is to stay well away and forget the password.
What you should do about social media if divorcing
Experts say: minimise social media use during the height of your divorce, understand privacy settings, and be ruthless with your friends lists, especially alert for potentially untrustworthy mutual friends. Protect yourself in simple ways including: not posting things you wouldn’t like a judge to see, remembering information goes viral so don’t think you can control anything once posted, being vigilant about your online security, changing your passwords regularly, and so on.
And go ahead and collect evidence against your ex on social media in a lawful way –if you are unclear on what is allowed, speak to your lawyer for advice (an initial half hour consult is free, so have a quick chat about your needs). For example, emails can be admissible, but bitterly sharing the details of your divorce process can put you in breach of the Family Law Act 1975. And also, be wary of videotaping children if the motive is to collect evidence.
Do you need help with your divorce? Please call Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information about how to get the correct legal advice, please call Alliance Legal Services.
You may like to read our blog on emails as admissible evidence.