By Jill Coil
We all have mistakes and regrets in our past that we wish to forget and delete from memory. Before Facebook, these missteps would only be remembered by a small circle of people and they were rarely documented for the public.
But social networking websites allow our transgressions – including those of our spouses - to become public knowledge that can be used in court.
When someone's character is on trial before the court, a guardian ad litem, a child custody evaluator, etc., any form of public information can be taken into account.
In divorce and child custody battles, parties' tempers are flared and mud slinging is expected. This is a "he said-she said" war of who is the worst person, who has done the worst things and who deserves more or less with the children because of it.
In the mud slinging phase, parties will get any information possible to show that you are undeserving of a fair and reasonable result. And the information posted on social networking websites, including Facebook, will be the first evidence given to the judge to back up the claims.
While Facebook can be a formidable foe in your divorce, there are four reasons social networking websites can also be your friend:
1. You can use the information on social media websites against the opposing party.
2. Social networking websites can be used as your own personal private detective. Most people have no limits to what they will expose or share on these public sites.
3. Information acquired from Facebook can be used to evaluate the opposing party’s maturity and their ability to parent. The screening of Facebook profiles is a common practice in many aspects of life. For example, social networking websites are used all the time by employers to recruit and hire people for jobs. Making the wrong comment on a personal profile can be enough for an employer to disqualify an application. In similar fashion, the court can use this information to determine the quality of character and parental fitness.
4. The most common way Facebook and other social networking sites can be used against the other party in court is when they use these sites to deface, demean and speak poorly of someone. This is a very common occurrence and one’s case can benefit if this information is carefully presented to the court.
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However, just as much as Facebook and other social networking websites can work positively for someone, they can definitely work against that person also, especially if one is not careful about what they share.
For example, in Utah and Texas where I am licensed to practice, Facebook information is considered public knowledge and therefore admissible in court. Any information can be used against a person and most likely will have a big impact on one’s ability to parent, fault in a marriage, maturity, etc. This information could affect the child custody outcome and even affect the division of marital property.
So just because you are getting a divorce or are in a custody battle, do you have to completely eliminate your social media presence? Not necessarily, but you do need to be careful about anything you put on the Internet.
Revealing too much online is one of "The 10 Stupidest Mistakes Men Make When Facing Divorce," according to Cordell & Cordell co-founder Joseph Cordell's latest book.
With the holiday season upon us I suggest not gift wrapping evidence that can be used against you. Therefore, take precautions on Facebook and other social networking websites to protect yourself.