February 2016

Social media could seriously damage your divorce

Not only is social media activity increasingly being cited as a major contributory factor in marriage break-down, it can also have significantly detrimental consequences for couples when they are going through the divorce process itself. Moreover, it may affect the financial and emotional outcome.

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn and online communications applications like WhatsApp, Snapchat and Viber are now very much part and parcel of how many of us live our lives and interact with family members, friends and colleagues. Sharing our news and views online, both written posts and photos, has become commonplace.

Yet it’s also causing serious marriage strife. Whether it’s spouses by chance finding inappropriate messages and photographs sent to third parties on their partner’s Facebook page or those deliberately setting out to try to uncover evidence of infidelity, inappropriate behaviour or even expenditure, social media can be hazardous terrain for couples.

And if you’re already going through a divorce, or even just contemplating it, what you say and do in your social media posts and online chats could have unforeseen adverse consequences for you.

For example, if you mention on Facebook what you’re going to do with a forthcoming bonus payment, or update your LinkedIn profile to include your great new job, or post on Twitter about your expensive holiday plans, have you also disclosed it to your spouse and lawyer? Does what you’re saying to them tie up with what you’re saying online?

And don’t think blocking your spouse from your social media guarantees privacy. Couples often have mutual social media connections. In the event of a break-up, some will be more loyal to one party. Even if you block your spouse from seeing your posts directly, your mutual friends may still be able to relay to them what you are doing and saying. For example, if you have claimed you cannot afford to pay spousal support, but your mutual friends can see photos of your holiday abroad with your new partner a week later, you’re in trouble.

It could even be your friends’ activity that lets you down. If they share images of themselves in your new car, or your new partner updates their status to show off an expensive gift from you, it won’t look great if you’ve pleaded poverty in your divorce discussions.

Anne Marie Douglas, a member of Consensus Collaboration Scotland, a network that promotes a collaborative approach to divorce, and a partner with family law firm Cowan Douglas, comments:

“We would advise couples going through a divorce or separation to log out of all your profiles and take a break from social media activity while you go through the process. That said, we appreciate that this isn’t always possible or practical. If you do continue to use social media websites and online chat apps while you’re getting divorced or separated, we would suggest caution, discretion and good judgement. Remember that everything you do online becomes part of your digital footprint; it’s like a public logbook of your life. Social media and online activity also provide a digital time stamp. It could provide a potential trail of evidence that may be hard to explain away. What you post, like and tweet could lead to conflict, affect the financial outcome, and cause emotional damage, both for you and your children.”

Going through a divorce? 10 social media tips

  1. Take a break from social media, if you can.
  2. If you can’t tear yourself away, be very careful with your social media and other online activity during your divorce.
  3. Ensure you update your privacy settings on all social media accounts.
  4. But, even with the strictest privacy settings in place, assume that all your social media and online activities will be found by your partner or lawyer, and could be used against you if you’re hiding something or being dishonest.
  5. Don’t post, tweet, or share anything that you wouldn’t also say in person, in public, for everyone to see, for eternity.
  6. Post truthful thoughts and photos that are consistent with what you’ve said. Make sure that what you say online doesn’t contradict what you otherwise portray or convey in person, or in legal and financial documents.
  7. Remember that not every social media “friend” is a friend. You may find your posts and photos being passed on to your partner by mutual “friends”.
  8. Ask your contacts not to post any comments or photos involving you, and if they don’t, cease communicating with them on social media for now.
  9. Don’t assume you can remove any of your social media history as this could have legal consequences. Even if you’ve deleted or hidden posts or photos, someone may have taken a screenshot of your page while they existed or were public, or a cached version may be retrievable through a search engine.
  10. Don’t fake it. If you post a photo of you at your child’s sports game but your timeline shows that you left immediately after taking it, your credibility as a parent is shot.

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