Social Media and Family Law Cases

Social media has become a daily source of connection for millions and millions of people around the planet. There is no question it had scratched an itch for a sense of connection to others, and the ability for people to remake a presentation of themselves to others. This, in a day when relationship failure rate is at an all-time high.

What most who use social media do not realize is that when it comes to a court proceeding, the “record” created in that medium is usually the first place other parties and their attorneys go for negative information about you. Truly, for anyone to post information on a Facebook page, unless it is in a “private message”, is no different than standing up and announcing the same in the middle of Walmart on a busy day. Seriously, the first thing I tell family law clients who are dealing with custody issues is to consider all that is on social media about them and delete the accounts they have that have been misused by them in any way.

It is very difficult to use social media regularly and not create something that could be used, especially out of context, to make a person look just awful. I have plenty of stories I could share if it weren’t for my professional responsibility for client confidentiality. A person only needs to go online to see the credibility of my comments. The unintended risks are many: pictures can be misinterpreted; words said in “jest” can be presented as serious; the comments or photos of other people can be presented as what you agree with because you didn’t delete them; longer narratives can ramble into statements you later regret.

So, should everyone get paranoid about their social media pages? No, paranoia doesn’t help anyone. What I tell clients is, if you are going to use social media,

  1. keep it as simple as possible,
  2. monitor your space closely for inappropriate postings,
  3. only post what you would show or tell the same group in person,
  4. pay attention to the settings that control who can see your material,
  5. if you are, or will likely be in a legal proceeding, consider deleting the page(s).

The reality is that copies or screenshots of social media can almost always be allowed in at least as “illustrative” evidence. Once a judge had seen it, it is pretty hard for them to un-see it, even if it does not pass for “legal proof”. Since family court is still a court of “equity”, you can’t always rely on rules to keep evidence away from the decision-maker. When we put information into the public’s view, we are wise to assume that at some point it will be misused. So, when in doubt, keep it out!