Social media is defined as websites and mobile applications through which people share information and ideas or participate in social networking. The term is often used to describe both social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and medial sharing sites including Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat. Today, social medial has become an important part of our communication. For instance, when something happens in our lives, we post online about it to let your friends and families know. More often than not we share cute pictures of kids or pets. Similarly, most of our communications these days are by text or email. Web/electronic communications are convenient.
These conveniences, however, can also bring its own inconveniences along with it. In a court proceeding, texts, emails, and on-line status updates or postings can be used as evidence that can be used for and against either. Also in a divorce case, shares on social media or texts or emails can create ample evidence. It is therefore important to be cautious what you post on social media during the pendency of any divorce proceedings. Below provides an overview of how social media posts or text and email messages can be admitted as evidence into a courtroom.
Social media and networking sites
According to a survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), an overwhelming number of the nation’s divorce attorneys say they have seen an increase in the use of evidence from social networking websites in a family law case. [See an article titled, “Facebook is Primary Source for Compromising Information”, http://aaml.org/about-the-academy/press/press-releases/e-discovery/big-surge-social-networking-evidence-says-survey-]. More than half of the attorney responded that Facebook is the “primary source of evidence from social networking websites.” Facebook or other similar sites can provide a person’s private information such as where the person was at a particular day and time, with whom the person went there, and what the person did or how the person behaved.
Information on social media websites can be discoverable (in other words, ‘potentially relevant’ to a case) if it does not violate privacy or any privilege (for instance, attorney-client privilege). Your spouse’s attorney may ask a court to request your Facebook username and password, or may “friend request” you and gain access to your wall. Although such information will only be admitted into evidence if it is determined by a court to be ‘relevant’ to a case, proving relevance is often simple. For example, if information on Facebook provides pictures of you with an alcoholic beverage when alcohol abuse is at issue, or postings contradicting with your prior statements made in court or in pre-trial procedures, it is likely to be relevant to a case. In another instance, if you are supposed to be searching for a job, but posts on pictures that show you are playing video games all day, a judge may rule against you on alimony or child support decisions.
Creating a profile on an online dating website can also be an issue. It can show evidence of potential cheating (if created before a divorce is finalized or before you have even filed for divorce), and negatively affect your credibility if you caught up saying something different on a dating website than is said in court. In most cases, people present themselves differently (i.e., exaggerate) in their online profile. This can be used as evidence against you in court that you are not being honest. For example, the Hollywood actress, Sherri Shepherd, exposed the information that her ex-spouse listed on his dating website profile that his income is between $75,000 and $100,000, whereas in court documents related to the case, he claimed that he only works 20 to 30 hours per week. [See, http://www.eonline.com/news/824234/sherri-shepherd-calls-out-ex-husband-lamar-sally-after-posting-his-dating-profile] Such information will certainly make the ex-husband less credible in the eyes of a judge, and will lead to intense scrutiny when the judge determines his true income.
Email and text messages
Emails and text messages are admissible in divorce court and can also be subpoenaed (in other words ordered by a court to produce evidentiary documents). In fact, text messages are the most common form of evidence in a divorce case, followed by emails. [See an article titled “Technology potent tool in divorce cases”, http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2015/06/14/technology-potent-tool-in-divorce-cases.html]. According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), there has been a spike in the number of cases using evidence from text communications since 2013. Texts sent to your spouse or to children (or even to others) can be used as evidence which can show your real thoughts and intentions at time when you sent them. These can be taken out of context in divorce proceedings and used to distort the truth about your personality. Likewise, the information contained in your email is a constant source of information in a case. It is also important to keep in mind that there are cookies on your computer which even shows emails you deleted. More importantly, the service provider will also have all erased and deleted emails.
Therefore, it is best to avoid writing emails, texts and social media posts, or at least be careful about any form of written communications during a pendency of a family law case. Written communications can be very persuasive because what you actually wrote can be used against you or your allegations against your spouse. Assume that a judge will look at email or text communications between you and your spouse. If you would not want a judge reading it, do not write it anywhere. You may be tempted to delete your emails, texts and social media posts. However, once litigation has begun such digital data become evidence and them can be a destruction of evidence, causing a sanction by court. So, to be sure: never post something publicly or write a private message that you would not comfortable with others seeing. Additionally, you may want to keep records of your own communications to counter argue the meaning of any digital evidence admitted against you.
A skilled family law attorney will advise you to beware of what you post on social media during the pendency of any family law action because so much can be learned about you and your spouse through social media posts. Furthermore, emails, texts messages and other electronic documentation has increasingly been admitted into court as evidence, especially in domestic relations cases. Before you file for divorce, it is in your best interest to consult with a good family law attorney in your area.
Legal help with your Georgia Divorce Case
If you are facing divorce and have questions about emails, texts and social media evidence in your case, call us at 770-609-1247 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced and caring Georgia divorce attorneys.