In January 2015, the Mirror published the results of a survey of legal firm’s caseloads, concluding that one-third of divorces were attributing their marriage failure to Facebook. Specialists at the firm examined over 200 cases and found Facebook was used by legal teams in just over a third of cases. The law firm revealed that many of their cases revolved around the fact that people had used the site to track down and get back in touch with exes, or posted information that contradicted claims about their finances.
Antonia Love, head of family law at the law firm Farleys, said: "People who use social networking websites to send flirtatious emails to people who are not their partners are often lulled into a false sense of security that they are doing nothing wrong because correspondence is electronic and therefore isn't 'real life'. However, even if a physical relationship doesn't occur, electronic communications such as flirtatious emails and conversations can be used in divorce proceedings with the aggrieved party, understandably, citing unreasonable behavior."
How does this compare to divorce in the US?
A study published last summer found a correlation between increased Facebook use and divorce. The researchers first looked at the rise of Facebook use and the rate of divorce in individual states. They found that a 20% increase in the number of Facebook users in a given state is associated with a 4% increase in the divorce rate the following year. However, there is no way to know if the people increasing their Facebook use are the same people who are getting divorced.
The researchers also found a small relationship between marriage quality and social media use: the likelihood of a person thinking about leaving his or her spouse in the last 12 months is nearly twice as high for people who frequently use social media compared to those who aren’t on social networking sites. In all, the study found only a correlation between Facebook usage and divorce, and not the assertion that increased Facebook usage caused divorce.
According to an article in the Huffington Post, Russell Clayton, a doctoral student in the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and his colleagues at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and St. Mary's University in San Antonio surveyed 205 Facebook users between the ages of 18 and 82 -- 79 percent of whom reported being in a romantic relationship -- about their use of the social media site and whether or not it had instigated conflict with their current or former partners.
“Previous research has shown that the more a person in a romantic relationship uses Facebook, the more likely they are to monitor their partner ’s Facebook activity more stringently, which can lead to feelings of jealousy,” Clayton said. “Facebook-induced jealousy may lead to arguments concerning past partners. Also, our study found that excessive Facebook users are more likely to connect or reconnect with other Facebook users, including previous partners, which may lead to emotional and physical cheating.”
The correlation was strongest among newer relationships; Clayton concluded that high levels of Facebook use is associated with negative relationship outcomes for newer couples (three years or less).
Social Media and the Divorce Process
Divorce Financial Strategist Jeff Landers, in an article for Forbes, observes that he’s seeing more and more that not only can social networks and digital communications contribute to the breakup of a marriage, they can have unforeseen consequences in divorce settlement negotiations, as well, including:
Online activity can provide clues to hidden assets or other dirty tricks. When one spouse posts pictures of expensive outings on Facebook that can be seen by and reported to the blocked spouse by mutual friends, those pictures can be used against the spouse claiming he/she can’t afford to pay spousal support. Likewise, when your spouse’s boat shows up in a Facebook photo posted by his best friend who claims the boat is “his,” this may be a clue that spouse is hiding assets.
Email and text messages can be admissible evidence in court. Several courts have held that social media posts, messages, and pictures can be used in court for three main reasons:
It does not violate any privacy as there is no expectation of privacy.
It can be relevant.
It does not violate any privilege.
Many judges will grant the request to use evidence from social media in divorce court as long as the social media posts, messages, or pictures will likely lead to the discovery of admissible evidence such as hidden assets or information relevant to custody.
Family lawyers advise their clients not to put anything in an email, text message, online, or anywhere that they don’t want the judge to read. In the context of a divorce, if either party has shared information digitally that is at odds with what they’ve conveyed in person, or in legal documents, it can create serious problems. Lying on financial disclosures is a crime, and social media, email and text messages provide a potentially huge trail of evidence that can be hard to explain away.
Deleted posts and pictures can be retrieved. Even if you’ve deleted or hidden previous posts or photos, it is possible that someone has taken a screen shot of your page while they existed or were public, or that a cached version is still retrievable through a search engine. Even Snapchat is vulnerable to a quick screen shot by the photo’s recipient.
Divorce Coach Cindy Holbrok, in her article “3 Ways Social Media Can Hurt You During Your Divorce” advises that social media posts can also affect your custody agreement. Putting a post on Facebook asking if anyone has diapers or formula because you've ran out, could be used against you to prove that you are a neglectful parent. Such as posts of your children with your new boyfriend or a picture of you holding a drink in your hand with your child in the background. Posts stating that you are out partying when it was your weekend with the kids can also be problematic. Remember it's not just your posts that can endanger your case. Be sure to tell your family and friends not to tag you in any post that might be questionable. Courts also look disapprovingly at parents that post derogatory or accusatory remarks online about the other parent.
Divorce-Friendly Social Media Advice
Going through a divorce? Follow these social media tips to avoid what could be an embarrassing day in divorce court:
Remember the 24 hour rule! If you’re emotions are running high, give yourself a 24 hour cooling period before posting on social media sites.
Treat every post, comment, picture or message as if your children and family are reading it.
Once you’ve posted something, it can’t be undone. Every action on social media sites can be retrieved, even those that have been deleted.
Consider blocking or deleting your soon to be ex-spouse and all of your mutual friends. You never know when your comments may be used against you in the future.
Use social media as if you are under a microscope. Treat every post, picture, or comment as if your spouse is going to use it against you; if you’ve gone out with your friends drinking and celebrating, the photos you took should probably remain unposted.
Avoid using social media sites as a platform for discussing your divorce. Do so in person on the phone and avoid having such discussions used against you in court.
Their best advice seems to be is to back away from using social media altogether. Social media sites like Facebook simply add to the long line of communication tools used to place one spouse in a more compromised position during divorce proceedings. By using the aforementioned cautionary posting tips and guidelines, you’ll eliminate much potential risk and damage to your case.