Warning: sharing on social media can be hazardous during a divorce

Most people see nothing wrong with the proliferation of social media in our society. They view it as a valuable networking tool, a way to stay in touch with friends or family far away, and a way to connect with new people who have similar interests. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, the newly reintroduced MySpace, Friendster and Google+ are often used to research businesses, evaluate services, make purchases, conduct meetings and share photos or videos with loved ones.

The down side

What many people don't realize, though, is that the freedom with which most people share life happenings, photographs, joys and frustrations online can be a double-edged sword when the sharer is undergoing a divorce or other contested family law matter.

Anything posted on the internet - even for a short time before being deleted - can likely be captured and used as evidence in court. It is possible to instantaneously capture screen shots of online material, and sometimes cached versions of web pages can be found in search engine query results or in a computer's temporary internet files. Some estimates say that as many as half of all divorce cases filed in recent years had some form of online evidence admitted.

Real-world examples

A rant you briefly posted about your soon-to-be ex-spouse (or your attorney, or the judge, etc.) after a judge's decision in the other party's favor could come back to haunt you, even if you took it down within minutes.

A picture of you enjoying a cocktail at a friend's wedding or raising a glass at a work-sponsored outing might be presented by your spouse's attorney as evidence that you drink too much to be responsible for your children. Clearly, a judge won't make a custody determination on the basis of a single photograph, but it could be persuasive.

Sometimes social media can work in your favor, such as if your spouse posts defamatory statements about you, there are photos or posts indicating your spouse is involved with another person, or if your spouse - who had recently been ordered to pay spousal maintenance/alimony but claims he (or she) is broke - posts pictures of a new house, boat or luxury car.

Things to consider

Social media is likely here to stay. Even after only a few years of existence, it is ingrained into our lives now, and a large portion of the world's population has accounts on one or more social networking sites. The majority of the time, you can use your social media accounts however you wish, be it to catch up with an old friend or express frustration at the traffic on your commute, but there are some times that you need to be more careful.

Legal experts would likely advise a social media hiatus while any contested family law matter is ongoing, but that isn't necessarily realistic. Perhaps a better rule of thumb is to only post things that you wouldn't mind the judge seeing, be it comments, status updates, photos, jokes, quotes or videos.

Do you have questions about how your online social media activity can affect your real-world divorce? For more information about the types of social media evidence that might be used in a contested divorce, child custody, child support or alimony proceeding, speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area.