Warning: What You Say on Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace May Come Back to Haunt You

Apr 8, 2009

As social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace gain in popularity, attorneys are dealing with issues regarding the use, or misuse, of these sites.  Employers are using these sites to check up on employees, litigants are using these sites to uncover dirt on opposing sides and witnesses, and in family law cases, parties are using these sites to keep track of the other side and to build a custody case.  We all may still be trying to figure out how to respond to these issues, but here are the top 5 things I want my family law clients to know when it comes to social networking websites:

  1. Realize that the other side is someone you have had a significant relationship with.  She/he knows that you post party pictures on Facebook, tweet about your daily activities on Twitter, and vent all of your frustrations in your blog.  She/he may be watching you and keeping track of your online movements.  If you don’t want him/her to know you are going on a blind date – don’t put that in your Facebook status.
  2. Change all passwords.  Most people fail to use secure passwords and routinely use the same passwords over and over again.  It is quite common for people to know their significant other’s passwords.  A break up is the perfect time to change all of your passwords (and choose a secure password).  You might as well make it a little more difficult for the other party to hack into your account.   
  3. Update your privacy settings.  Facebook in particular has excellent privacy settings, you can control what information others see about you.  Now is the time to update your privacy settings and limit what the other party can see.  Check out Nick O’Neill’s article 10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know.
  4. Be prepared for the fall out.  Don’t be surprised if you find yourself defending all of your online activities.  The pictures from your Facebook account of you at that party appear as a trial exhibit.  The custody evaluator is given a copy of every single blog entry you have written to prove your “instability.”  Your lawyer receives letters concerning all of your tweets and status updates that mention “partying.”  Even if you have changed your password and updated your privacy settings, if it is out there, it may be found, and you should be prepared to deal with it.  The best rule of thumb, if it is something you do not want the other side, your attorney, your custody evaluator, your judge, and your grandmother to know: Do NOT Put it Online.
  5. Know that it doesn’t really matter.  Keep in mind that Minnesota is a no-fault divorce state.  As much as it hurts that your spouse had an affair, the courts don’t care.  We do not need to put the steamy wall posts between your husband and his new girlfriend in the court file.  I don’t really need them for my file either.  And when we are looking at custody and parenting time issues – the courts don’t really care what a parent is doing outside of the presence of the children.  A picture of the other side, with the children, drinking at a wild party may be relevant, but status updates concerning the other parent’s hangover on a weekend when the children are with you are completely irrelevant.  As difficult as it may be, you need to keep in mind the difference between the emotional divorce and the legal divorce.  Don’t let the emotions of the situation run your case – you will end up spending way too much time and money on legal fees, and the only one to benefit from that is your lawyer.