By Marie Fedorov of FEDOROV Family Lawyers

It isn’t news to anybody that social media has played a huge part in shaping the way today’s society operates, including our forms of communication, interaction, shopping and many other significant aspects of life as we know it. If we were to take a snapshot of daily interaction between friends and family from 20 years ago, the picture would be significantly different to what we would see today. Interestingly, what surprises many people is the drastic effects that social media has played in divorces worldwide in more recent years. In fact, research shows that posts on social media are used as evidence in at least 75% of divorces.

You might be wondering – how could social media possibly contribute as a legitimate form of evidence that can seriously affect the outcome of a divorce case in court? What posts of yours can contain such substantial information that it works against you in deciding the custody of your children? What impact can online ‘friends’ have in your divorce case and can their evidence carry more weight than the word of your ‘real-life’ friends? The reality is that social media has the ability to completely turn any divorce case upside down and completely against you – and most Australians are not taking this fact seriously enough.

Internet Addiction

A common starting point for many marriage breakdowns across the world is internet addiction – a condition where an individual’s online behaviour causes detriment to their offline personal relationships (ie - real-life relationships). Although the internet is an integral part of life and we can’t remember times without it, the reality is that the internet is still a relatively new concept.

Internet addiction has contributed to Australian divorces in a variety of ways. Most commonly recognised is the reality that those who are addicted to the internet are more likely to engage in promiscuity with people they have met online. This is because social networking offers the convenience of interaction while maintaining anonymity.

Facts such as these really shouldn’t be a surprise when we find out that around 12% of Australians have admitted to using social media as their preferred avenue for relieving stress. And when relationship issues are such a common factor in stress levels across the board, it isn’t hard to make the correlation between the two statistics.

So how, exactly, can our social media behaviour be used as evidence against us in court when going through a divorce?

Are you fit to be a parent?

There have been many reported cases where one parent’s right to custody of their children has been severely impacted due to photos that have been posted on their social media accounts. If you are fighting to have a specific amount of custody of your children, and the courts are considering character evidence to prove which parent should be allowed more time, your social media timeline can be taken just as seriously as a written statement from a family friend.

For example, in one case, two parents were fighting over who should have sole custody of their child. Images that were taken off Facebook of one of the parents partying, doing drugs and consuming alcohol during “their” parenting time was put forward as evidence, which resulted in that parent having significantly less time as they were deemed to not be as fit a parent as the other.

Hidden assets

Another setback that people experience stems from claiming to have fewer assets than what is actually the truth. It is common to hear of cases where one spouse claims to be unemployed and ‘living from day to day’, whereas their social media accounts show them living it up on lavish holidays, bragging about new cars and even flaunting about their ‘high’ income on dating apps.

It can be as simple as revealing an upcoming bonus or a new job – if it hasn’t already been mentioned in court but has been found through social media, this can be used against you as evidence that shows you are not being honest in your financial declarations.

Tips to avoid social media being used as evidence during your divorce

With all of this in mind, it is important to know ways in which you can protect yourself.

Firstly, you can expect very close scrutiny by your spouse and their lawyer when going through a divorce. This should influence anything that goes online from your end. A divorce is a common time for your social accounts to be investigated, so keep this at the forefront of your mind. Similarly, remind yourself that anything you post should be something you would be comfortable showing not only to your spouse and their lawyer, but also to a judge. This isn’t just in the case of a divorce – this applies in all aspects of your life.

As always, keep in mind that your digital footprint lasts forever. It is good to keep in mind, divorce or not, that the content you post online can never be completely erased.

Get some solid advice from your family lawyer to help you better understand the issues that can be created by social media. No one better understands what can happen during a divorce than the people who hold your hand in court! A good lawyer should be able to explain things to you in a way that you can understand, and work with you to create an outcome that does not make you feel uncomfortable.

With that in mind, here are a few more tips that you can implement yourself in the case that you are working through a divorce with your spouse.

Get offline

Spending too much time on socials can be a red flag during a divorce. If you limit your time online, you greatly reduce the risk of posting anything that could be used against you or make a judge question your credibility.

Be careful about what you post

If you can’t get off-line completely, then you may consider some of these other ideas. The first of which is being wary of the content you post to your pages. It is important to remember – absolutely anything can be taken out of context. Don’t complain about your spouse or talk about the legal case, and ensure you ask your family and friends to be careful about what they are posting. You don’t want anything online to paint you in a negative light.

Rethink privacy

Your privacy settings are an important part in protecting your information. However. many people don’t realise how regularly privacy setting can change, making it incredibly difficult to manage your privacy across multiple platforms. You should proceed with the assumption that absolutely anyone can see your posts, regardless of how secure you have made your privacy settings. Keep in mind that your posts can be shared to friends’ pages, which greatly increases the reach and accessibility of your content.

Choose your friends wisely

It is incredible easy for your spouse to gain access to your ‘private’ online information – simply by duplicating the profile of one of your friends, or by logging into/using the account of a mutual friend of yours. Married couples have mutual friends, who have been known to change ‘sides’ during the course of a divorce and disclose information to one partner that was revealed in confidence by their spouse.

In conclusion, if you are going through a divorce, think wisely when it comes to social media. You don’t want your inappropriate use of various platforms to jeopardise your desired outcome.

This article provides general information and does not constitute legal advice. It is always important to seek professional legal advice.

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