Social media has become such an important part of our lives. However, when going through a divorce, you may want to be a little more cautious. I am thrilled to welcome guest blogger, Elizabeth Billies, to share the seven don'ts of social media during a divorce.
by Guest Blogger, Elizabeth Billies, Attorney
We share our lives on social media. Birthdays, vacations, pet photos, it's all out there for the world to see. Social media posts, text messages, and emails have become the most common ways we communicate with our friends and family. So, it makes sense that if you are willing to share your latest sunset photo or what you ate for breakfast on the internet, you are also likely to share your thoughts on your divorce/breakup online as well.
However, you need to think about what you post on social media during this process. Certain social media don'ts can have a direct effect on your divorce. The last thing that you want is to have one picture or post ruin your case. Trust me, I've seen it happen.
So yes, what you (and your ex-partner) post on social media matters. But what if you are not sure how to use (or not use) social media during a divorce or separation? Don't worry! I am here to help you get it right. In this article, I talk about the following seven social media don'ts of divorce.
When you are married, you often share everything (hopefully not underwear, though). I've even had clients who have had family email addresses and Facebook pages. This also includes passwords to your phone, email, and social media accounts. Or, you simply have the passwords for these accounts saved on your computer so that you don't even need to log in every time you want to see what crazy Aunt Jean posted on Facebook today. As a result, anyone that has access to your computer can open your account and view your page.
I always ask if a spouse has access to social media pages, phones, email accounts, and computers during my initial divorce consult. Even if the client says no, I tell them to change their passwords just in case. Seriously, change it for everything! No exceptions. Just because you don't think that your ex has access or would even use it, doesn't mean that they don’t. What if your spouse has been concerned about infidelity for months and therefore found a way to read your Facebook messages? I'm sure they wouldn't have told you they could access your account in that scenario.
Another place where I see a lot of people get in trouble is failing to unlink text message accounts from their iPhones, Macs, and iPads. I have had numerous clients tell me that their ex-spouse's text messages still come up on the family (or worse) their children's iPads because the spouse forgot to sever the connection. It is also a good idea to remove yourself from the family Apple ID account so that your former partner can't use the Find My Friend function to track your movements.
I recently met with a client who did not have a secure email account. Sometimes this happens because the spouses share an account. Other times it is because the spouse knows the password to the client’s account. While you should certainly change your password (See Don’t #1), it may also be best to open an entirely new email account.
I suggest this for three reasons. First, some clients are not tech-savvy and don’t know how to change their password or are concerned that their spouse will hack their account even if they do. Second, it is best to have a separate email account for divorce purposes only. I mainly communicate with my clients through email. I believe most other divorce attorneys do the same. By having an account solely devoted to your divorce case, you ensure that you do not miss any communications or documents from your attorney. Third, some clients only have work email accounts. I don’t like to communicate with clients over work email. What if you leave your job? Are these accounts secure from your employer? Would your employer be happy that you are using your work account for personal reasons? Email accounts are free. Just get a new one.
Also, if you can, I also suggest getting your own cell phone plan. Sometimes this comes with penalties, and clients are concerned about the cost, especially when they are going to be taking on the expense of a divorce or are not yet receiving support. However, if you are on the same phone plan, your spouse may have the ability to track your movements and hack into your text messages. If this is a major concern of yours, it may be worth paying the penalty to get peace of mind.
It's storytime! A few years ago, I was in a courthouse hallway, waiting for my case to be called. While sitting there with my client, I saw two sheriff's deputies approach a woman who was also waiting for her family law matter to be heard. I overheard them say to her, "Ma'am, did you just take a picture of yourself in the courthouse and post it on Facebook?" She admitted that she did, and they asked her to take it down immediately. She had posted a selfie of her inside the building and tagged her location! Using that tag, the deputies determined who she was and where her case was in the facility.
So . . . . Don't do that. The last thing you want to do on an already stressful day is incur the wrath of the courthouse police because of a social media post. If you must say something, please wait until you are home before you head over to your social media account of choice to discuss your day.
This is a big one. As hard as it may be to avoid venting your frustrations about your ex's unwillingness to pay alimony or his/her failure to pack your child's overnight bag for your weekend custodial time, keep it off social media!! Please, I promise it is for your own good.
The divorce process is emotional. I get it. However, a case is generally never going to be settled because you embarrassed your ex-spouse with the details of your separation or if you berate them about their infidelity on Facebook. Even an inspirational yet cryptic post can be taken the wrong way. You can do your case a great disservice by blowing a chance to resolve your matter simply because you bashed your ex in an Instagram post. And remember, settling your case and being reasonable is the ultimate way to save on legal fees. Instead, vent to a friend over cheesecake and wine. In person.
I have two real-life examples of this don’t. First, you are at a party where there is marijuana and alcohol. Your friend takes a bunch of photos and tags you in them and posts them on Facebook. Your ex (or a friend of your ex) sees them. To make matters worse, the pictures are from an evening when you had custody of your children. Your ex decides to use them in your upcoming custody hearing to show you are an unfit parent.
Second, you have a close-knit family, and your sister is very upset about the fact that your ex won't finalize your divorce. She goes on Facebook to rant about how her ex-in-law is a horrible person and calls them every name they can think of. Your ex becomes aware of this post (perhaps because your sister tags you in it) and now won't even entertain settlement negotiations because they are so upset and want revenge. The furniture set you wanted from the guest bedroom that she didn't want to give up? That's the least of your problems now.
The first example could mean that you lose custodial time with your children. The second, while perhaps less impactful on the court proceedings in your matter, ultimately delays the resolution of your case. Both have an effect. Both should never have happened.
The easiest way to avoid this? Change your Facebook timeline settings so that anything that someone wants to post on your timeline is not displayed until you review it. If you don't like it, you can deny the request. This also works for those pictures in which you look like you have a double chin. You can also change your settings so that you cannot be tagged in posts on another person's wall, as well.
Most social media posts won't be as extreme as those discussed above in Don’t #5. Rather, most are those communications done in the heat of anger where you complain about your separation or criticize your spouse. You know the ones I'm talking about, the super passive-aggressive ones where you don't even say the person's name. See also: inspirational quotes that clearly have a double meaning.
Another place I see clients make this mistake is in emails and text messages. Remember, those are admissible in trial too! While you may be angry at your spouse for bringing the children back late, sending a profanity-laced text or email is only going to hurt you in the long run. If you often fall victim to this behavior, I suggest that you and your spouse sign up for Our Family Wizard. OFW is a co-parenting website/app, including an email function that reviews your emails for red-flag language before you hit send. Sometimes, being forced to think twice will cause you to hit the delete button.
Related post: Eliminate Shared Parenting Battles with OurFamilyWizard
Imagine that social media posts or messages being read by a judge six months from now. What does that post say about you? What does it say (or not say) about your ex? If you would be ashamed to have that entry or message read aloud and transcribed by a court reporter, don't post it. If you can, take it down.
I'm not saying you can't be mad at your ex or, that you can't express your frustrations with them or the divorce process. I am a huge advocate for getting together with a friend and venting. I even suggest it to save money on your divorce legal fees. I'm just saying don't do it on Instagram.
I often see this problem with my younger clients. While a couple may no longer be connected on social media, they still have mutual friends on Facebook or Instagram. Even Snapchat can play a role here. Do not ask these friends for information about what the other person is posting! It is not fair to ask your friends and family to be social media spies, particularly if they still have a positive relationship with the other person.
More importantly, there is nothing good that will come from keeping track of your ex's social media exploits. It will only prevent you from healing from your divorce. Rip off the Band-Aid! Unlink your accounts and ask your friends to keep anything they see to themselves.
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Everyone needs to be careful on social media, particularly those going through a divorce or separation. So, remember these 7 Social Media Don'ts:
For the last ten years, Elizabeth Billies has been working as a divorce attorney in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During this time, she’s represented hundreds of men and women going through separation and divorce. In doing so, she has learned a few (okay, maybe more than a few) things about love, relationships, and the divorce process. In addition to her family law practice, Ms. Billies also operates her blog, the Divorce Lawyer Life, in which she shares her knowledge about all things divorce and relationship-related.