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Social media: its role in divorce and associated pitfalls
Date:1 JUN 2018
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Solicitor
Media reports that celebrity baker Paul Hollywood and his estranged wife have used social media to indulge in some online taunting will comes as no surprise to many family lawyers.

In my experience, posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – whether photos or comments – from those going through separation are increasingly common, yet they could impact seriously on divorce and children proceedings.

Whether being used as evidence to gain the upper-hand in financial negotiations, to demonstrate flaws in the other party’s character, or as proof for acts of infidelity, the use of social media in the context of family disputes is rife.
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During divorce

Social media can be a very disruptive and harmful tool when going through a break-up. Many people are oblivious to the fact that social media posts are public documents, admissible in court and can cause potentially significant harm to their case during dissolution proceedings.

Divorce can be a highly stressful and emotional time. In fact, a 2015 study published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, found that women who had been through divorce were 24% more likely to suffer a heart attack than others who had not. Further, women who had experienced more than one marital breakdown have a 77% increased risk of suffering a heart attack.

Given these statistics, venting your frustrations via social media might appear to be an appropriate way of providing temporary relief from the stresses of reality. However, it is important not to get carried away with your online activity and to ensure that status updates and images posted online are not contradictory to anything you intend to rely on in court or negotiations. For example, if you maintain that you are unable to work due to injury but then post pictures of you on holiday doing extreme sports, this argument may be undermined entirely  as well as serving to demonstrate your dishonest character.

Determining a fair financial settlement during divorce, be it through agreement formulated with the assistance of lawyers, at mediation or by asking a judge to decide in court proceedings, plays an important role in achieving finality and ensuring your financial security. Without a clean break clause embodied within a consent order or order imposed by the court, your financial claims remain open indefinitely.

When separating from your spouse, you may be tempted to take a holiday, treat yourself or indulge in retail therapy, all of which are perfectly acceptable coping mechanisms.
However, be careful what you post to social media, as these posts may be factored into any discussions regarding finances. If you’re asking for settlement to weigh largely in your favour due to your strained financial circumstances but you’re posting pictures of yourself on holiday abroad with a new (apparently wealthier) partner it could give your ex the evidence they need to contest your claims.

Even if you have removed your former spouse from your friends and/or followers list and blocked them, you are likely to still have mutual friends. Aggrieved exes may even go to the lengths of creating new accounts to monitor the other’s behaviour post break-up for the sole purpose of gathering evidence to use in court  and even to attempt blackmail them.

Divorce with dignity

Where a relationship has broken down due to infidelity, you may have seen incriminating messages and/or photos on your partner’s email or social media accounts. It can be very tempting to ‘hack’ their accounts to obtain the proof, thinking it will help you in court. This is not a good idea for a number of reasons:
  • The evidence may be ruled inadmissible in court as it is private.
  • You could end up facing criticism or separate legal action for invading your ex’s private accounts (particularly if you have hacked their work email).
  • It is unlikely to reflect well on you in court, as invading privacy in this way can often be viewed as abusive/controlling behaviour in a relationship.
The same can be said for those who attempt to secretly record or film their former partners using smart phones. I have even come across former spouses who attempt to track each other using location settings on their smart phones and use this as a way of proving someone’s whereabouts  or even stalking them. For those who have concerns about this, it is important to ensure location settings on their mobile devices allow them sufficient privacy and any conduct of this nature should be reported to the police. Needless to say, this kind of conduct is not viewed favourably in Court and can be detrimental for the responsible party.

Coercive control now constitutes a form of domestic abuse and is often demonstrated by the content of private emails and messages stored and used in court proceedings. Avoid aggressive, abusive language and definitely avoid saying anything that could be interpreted as a threat, physical or otherwise.

In divorce, emotions may run extremely high, but always try to maintain your composure and not to get caught in an online or public row as, anything you say on social media, is impossible to take back and could well follow you throughout the proceedings. 

Conversations can be saved and posts screenshot. Whilst you may not have meant what you said in the heat of the moment, these can be used to show you in a bad light.

This article was originally published by Silk Family Law
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