Social Media and Your Divorce

by Annette Burns on January 19, 2013

Social media can be a weapon in a divorce or contested parenting time proceeding. Here’s some information about using social media if you’re involved in a court case for divorce or parenting time.

Social media means a wide variety of things—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Vimeo, blogging, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc. etc. For ease, I refer mostly to Facebook below, but all these things apply to anything that’s posted online.

Anything you post is fair game and likely to turn up in court.

Just because you deleted something from Facebook doesn’t mean it’s gone. If it had to do with your ex or your divorce or your frustration about those things, it’s highly likely that someone grabbed a screen shot of it while it was posted, and that the screen shot will end up in your ex’s hands.

Copies of what’s posted on Facebook ARE admissible in court and those things are sometimes of interest to the judge.

Posting about how rotten your child’s other parent is WILL be of interest to the judge and will not make you look good in court. And, the judge will want to know why you felt it necessary to publicly post things about your divorce.

Posting pictures of yourself partying or with alcohol or drugs WILL show up in court and those things WILL be of interest to the judge and a custody evaluator. Set your privacy settings so that you can’t be tagged in someone else’s picture without your consent—and be very stingy with giving that consent.

Sometimes it’s not WHAT you post but WHEN or WHERE you post from that gets you in trouble. Checking in from a bar at a time you’re supposed to be caring for your children will work against you in court.

Things you post online are good evidence of your credibility.

Things you post online may be evidence of your income, your job prospects and your parenting ability.

After a divorce or parenting time action is going on, don’t go online and delete everything in your online accounts. That’s called “spoliation” of evidence and it’s illegal. And all that stuff can be retrieved from the online provider anyway. You CAN (and should) make your online accounts inactive during a parenting time case, which is different than deleting things. A Judge might later order you to make the account active again in order to provide evidence.

When a divorce or parenting time action starts, remember to unfriend or delete not only the other party, but also unfriend his or her friends and family members and mutual friends. Anything you post that can be viewed by even a distant acquaintance of his or hers is going to get into the other person’s hands very quickly.

Don’t post pictures of your children online where they can be seen publicly, or even by friends or friends. Make sure your privacy settings are very strict. Parents often disagree about the posting of children’s pictures online. You can share pictures of your kids with family members in private ways (private emails or pages that can be viewed only by selected family members, or through services that require a password), but anything shared beyond family members could become problematic in court.

Technology traps that divorcing people fall into.

The iCloud. If you use iCloud or any other web-based service to back up your phone, laptop or other device, remember that your iCloud account may be linked to a shared family iTunes account. If your spouse has the password, he or she can login into iCloud from any computer and access email, texts, calendars and any other information you choose to store on the cloud.

Browser history. Deleteit. Whether you researched divorce laws, lawyers, or a new place to live, you are leaving a trail for your spouse to see.

Linked Devices. The iPad you left at home may still be connected to your iPhone. If that’s the case, your calendars, email and some text messages may be viewed on the iPad. If you are going to leave the iPad in the hands of your soon-to-be-ex, you should remove your personal information from the machine and stop the iCloud or other automatic connections between the devices.

Location services on your phone or iPad can be used to track your whereabouts. Location services applications that allow you to locate a missing phone, laptop or other device can also be used to locate you. If you have “Find my iPhone” or “Find my iPad” enabled and your spouse knows the password to that account, your spouse can either track you, or simply erase everything on your phone/ iPad. Not pleasant.

If you get a new phone and give the old one to one of your children, REMOVE ALL YOUR DATA. Restore the phone to factory settings. If you don’t know how to do this, take it to the provider store and have them do it.

Automatically stored passwords. Your Facebook and other password may come up automatically on a computer you leave at home, your iPad and your phone. Be more diligent than ever in protecting all your electronic devices, and don’t leave them in a car or lying around your office.

Automatically stored credit card information. Many people leave their credit card numbers with trusted sites like Amazon. If your spouse has access to that account with stored credit card information, s/he can order tons of merchandise sent to himself/ herself. Get on Amazon and any other sites where you’ve regularly ordered from, change the password (see below), and/ or delete all credit card information.

Don’t forget bank account access information. A spouse can view all your bank information, including the location of ATM withdrawals, all your debit card use, and bank balances. And, by using inter-account transfers or bill pay, a spouse could have money transferred/ paid out of your account, either directly to the spouse or to pay his/ her bills.

Change Your Passwords/ Change your Passwords/ CHANGE YOUR PASSWORDS. It’s very common for a spouse to know the other spouse’s most common passwords, or at least be able to answer the secret questions to get into an online account. A divorce is the time to start over with entirely new passwords that have never previously occurred to you. Find a song that your spouse would never think of and use the first letters of a favorite line of that song as your password, combined with a number that means something to you but isn’t a number that you’ve used in the past or that your spouse would associate with you. Using your own or your children’s birthdays in passwords is gone forever.

As far as “secret questions”, they are rarely very good for keeping secrets.   Your spouse is bound to know your mother’s maiden name. Use the most obscure “secret question” you can find.  I recent saw one provider using your maternal or paternal grandfather’s first name—-that’s a little more likely to be unknown to your spouse.   You also don’t have to honestly answer the security question.   You can decide that your mother’s maiden name, for security question purposes, is “Streisand”.  There’s no law against making up something to enhance security.

The new passwords should apply to all email accounts, bank accounts, and online accounts of any kind. Even your NetFlix account could cause you problems, so change it along with anything else.

Lifehacker.com is a great way to stay current in password and online safety.

Two-factor authentication  is available for many accounts including Gmail, Facebook and Dropbox.  Here’s a good Lifehacker article about two-factor authentication.   When you set your new password, find that provider’s double-authentication procedures and set them up. Yes, these additional authorization is (briefly) a hassle, but the benefit is that if someone tries to access your account from an unrecognized computer, you will receive a text message telling you about the attempt. Access will only be permitted after you enter a passcode that is texted to you. Once you’ve entered the passcode for your own computers or iPad, you can indicate that those computers are “recognized” and won’t need passcodes for those computers.

Open a new, secure email account to communicate with your attorney. Apply two-factor authentication (above) to that account. NEVER use an office email account (owned by your employer) to communicate with your attorney, as that can breach the attorney-client privilege. You have no reasonable expectation of privacy in email communication s made on an office account, as that account belongs to your employer. Many employer-based accounts even include a clause at the end indicating that all emails remain the property of the employer. This means that your employer can access these emails, read what you thought was privileged information, and the employer may have to produce that information pursuant to a subpoena.

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