These days, it seems that just about everyone is on social media. Whether you post photos on Instagram, maintain an active profile on Facebook or LinkedIn, or use Twitter or any of the various other apps that have proliferated over the past decade, your use of social media means that there could potentially be an extraordinary amount of information about you available online.
It also means that this information could come up during your divorce.
Spouses’ social media profiles are increasingly playing a role in the divorce process. Photos and comments dating back years can potentially be relevant to certain aspects of the divorce process, as can posts made during the divorce. Even if a post itself is not directly relevant or probative, it could shed light on an issue that warrants attention during your divorce.
Social Media and Your Divorce: What Do You Need to Know?
Let’s look at some of the potential issues in a bit more detail. Here are five ways that your (or your spouse’s) use of social media could potentially impact your divorce:
1. Social Media Posts Can Be Used as Evidence of Adultery, Substance Abuse, and Other Matters Relevant to Your Divorce
Although Washington is a no-fault divorce state, evidence of adultery, substance abuse, and other forms of “marital fault” can still impact the divorce process in various ways. For example, if your spouse cheated on you and used joint funds to pay for trips, gifts, or other items, you may be entitled to recoup these expenditures separate from your share of community property. Likewise, if your spouse abuses alcohol or other drugs and you believe that his or her substance abuse has the potential to negatively impact your children, this could impact the “best interests” analysis with regard to establishing a parenting plan. If these are relevant issues, photos on your spouse’s account, photos on friends’ and family members’ accounts, and various other forms of social media evidence can all potentially be used as evidence to steer the outcome of your divorce.
2. Social Media Posts Can Be Used as Evidence of False Statements and Incomplete Disclosures During the Divorce Process
During the divorce process, both spouses must be truthful, and they must make certain legally-required disclosures. Withholding or misrepresenting information during a divorce can lead to negative repercussions, and social media posts can be one source of evidence for proving that a divorcing spouse has not been entirely forthcoming. For example, if your spouse claims to be out of work but routinely posts photos of new purchases online, this may help prove that he or she is hiding income. In some cases, divorcing spouses will admit to withholding information online – forgetting (or not realizing) that their own words can be used against them.
3. Photos and Comments You Post Online During Your Divorce Can Impact the Process in Other Ways as Well
For most couples, there are two or three primary components to the divorce process in Washington: (i) dividing their community property; (ii) making provisions for financial support; and, (iii) if they have children, establishing a parenting plan. Each of these components can be impacted by what one or both spouses post online. For example, social media posts can be used to:
- Prove that a spouse purchased items that qualify as community property.
- Prove that a spouse is spending lavishly rather than adhering to the budget that both spouses followed during their marriage.
- Demonstrate that a spouse is unfit to assume primary or equal parenting time.
- Demonstrate that a spouse is employed or operating a business.
- Show that one spouse is badmouthing the other to mutual friends, to their children, or publicly during the divorce process.
4. Direct Messages, Posts to Private Accounts, and Other “Private” Communications Can Still Come to Light
Many spouses assume that sending direct messages or making their social media accounts private will prevent their comments, pictures, and posts from coming to light during their divorce. However, this is not necessarily the case. While you may have an expectation that your direct messages will not be shared or that your approved friends or followers will not disclose your “private” posts to your spouse, other people may not share this same expectation. Likewise, during the divorce process, each spouse may be able to subpoena the other’s social media records—just as divorcing spouses can be compel disclosure of text messages, emails, and other forms of communication.
5. Statements Posted Online Often Cannot Be Taken Back
Statements and photos posted online can potentially live on forever. Even if you go back and delete a post (which may be inadvisable), it may still be accessible through your account history or from other people who reposted it or saved a copy. If your account is public, or if your spouse has access to your posts as a “friend” or “follower,” you can expect your spouse (and his or her attorney) to review your posts and save copies of anything that could potentially be relevant to your divorce. Of course, this is a step that you and your attorney may be able to take as well.
Does this mean that you should stay off of social media from now until the end of your divorce? Not necessarily. But, if you choose to post, you need to do so carefully and with full knowledge of the potential implications involved. When in doubt, keep your thoughts to yourself; or, ask your attorney for guidance on what is (and isn’t) okay to post online while your divorce is pending.
Speak with a Tacoma, WA Divorce Lawyer at Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S.
If you are considering a divorce and would like more information about the potential implications of your (or your spouse’s) social media accounts, we encourage you to contact us for an initial consultation. To speak with one of our Tacoma, WA divorce lawyers in confidence, please call us today or request an appointment online today.