Social media and divorce

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Social media and divorce don’t mix – keep your marriage breakdown private!

Do you and your spouse share everything, even logins and passwords to cell phones and personal online accounts? This was a lifesaver for one couple, who prided themselves on having no secrets from each other. When the husband suffered a heart attack and never regained consciousness, his wife was able to answer business messages on his phone and tidy up his affairs. But when a relationship starts to break down, “access all areas” is not a good idea. If you are going through a divorce, or even contemplating the end of your marriage, here are some tips around the use of social media and other electronic communications. This is a time when your privacy is critical.

Private communications should be private

You may be discussing matters with an attorney, a social worker, a psychologist, or even an accountant. You may not have filed for divorce yet, but you are investigating your options. Your professional advisers need a secure way to contact you, and you need to know that your communications are confidential. In the first instance, you should change the password to your email account. But it is smarter to set up a new email address altogether. There are multiple alternatives to the ubiquitous Gmail, many of them more secure and less inclined to mine your data. And all are free. It’s not our place to plug products, but a quick online search will reveal all. It’s a very good idea to set up a dedicated email account for your divorce correspondence. Don’t give the address to anyone else. That way you won’t miss an important email because it is buried in a pile of updates. All your important information will be in one place, easily searchable and classifiable.

If you still use your old email address, be careful what you say in personal emails, even if you have changed your password. Don’t complain about your spouse in a message to your mother. Your family won’t betray your confidence, but technology might. Emails wind up in the wrong hands all the time, and you don’t want a moment of frustration or rage being used as evidence against you. Remember that electronic information never really disappears, even if you have deleted it.

Social media

Love and marriage may go together, but divorce and social media don’t. Even if you are not friends with your spouse on Facebook or Instagram, you probably have friends in common. If a mutual friend makes a comment on something you post, your spouse may see it (depending on privacy settings). Furthermore, your mutual friends may tag you or post photos of you having a good time that could be taken out of context and used against you by your spouse’s attorney. How can you prove that you weren’t drunk and incapable of looking after your child in that photo with a glass of wine in your hand? You can ask your friends not to post photos that include you, but it’s probably safer to avoid these situations altogether. That doesn’t mean you can’t socialise until the divorce is finalised, but beware of rowdy situations and stay out of group photos.

When it comes to your own posts, be careful what you reveal about yourself. Now is not the time to show your friends your new designer handbag, or your new set of golf clubs. You may have worked hard to earn the money that paid for it, but when you are thrashing out your divorce settlement, it’s best to keep any symbols of wealth out of the virtual spotlight, particularly if maintenance negotiations are tricky. 

Social media and your children

Keep your children off your social media pages. In our view, this is sound advice at any time. There are just too many unsavoury characters stalking the internet. But when custody and access arrangements are at stake, you don’t want to risk doing anything that could appear irresponsible or provocative. Maybe you’ve taken your child on an outing that your spouse was never keen on and posted photos of your lovely day out together on Facebook. Before you know it, your spouse’s attorney has convinced the court that you exposed your child to an unsafe or inappropriate activity. Conversely, if you and your spouse use social media to communicate with each other, broadcasting details of your child’s movements is decidedly unwise. 

Facebook is not for fighting

If you and your spouse are still friends on social media, don’t use your page to stage a public spat. Don’t badmouth your spouse online. If your children are old enough to be on social media themselves, imagine how they would feel if they saw your derogatory comments. You are divorcing their parent. They are not. 

In short, don’t write anything on social media you wouldn’t want your child to read, now or in the future.

Furthermore, don’t allow your family members and friends to make remarks about your spouse or your divorce. Your sister’s loyalty could work against you if she berates your spouse, causing them to feel resentful. You may find they are much less accommodating at the negotiating table. Quietly and discreetly tell your family and close friends that you are going through a divorce and can’t risk any publicity of your private affairs. They will understand. You can change your Facebook timeline settings so that you have to review anything that someone wants to post on your timeline before it is displayed, but it’s simpler to avoid the situation altogether.

A word about dating sites and apps

When we hear the term “social media”, we tend to think of Facebook and Twitter. But the term also applies to dating sites and apps. Maybe you’ve decided to give Tinder a go. The desire to start dating is understandable, but if your divorce is not finalised, you could be taking a risk. While the safest approach is not to date at all until you are divorced, we understand that this is not realistic, especially if a divorce takes a long time to complete. But it’s important to be discreet. Don’t splash your newly single status all over Tinder. Unless you disguise your identity extremely well, which means using a pseudonym and not including a photo, you may be easily recognised by a friend of your spouse or someone else who knows you. This could be used against you in court. 

If you do use a dating app, be truthful about your circumstances. We’ve heard the story of one man who set his Tinder profile to say he was single and had no children. He was in the process of divorce (therefore still technically married) and had two children. You can imagine the field day his wife’s attorney had with that priceless piece of information. Needless to say, his maintenance and access arrangements were significantly affected.

The final word

Ultimately it comes down to common sense. While you may use social media as a means of keeping in touch with friends and enjoying light-hearted social engagement, it can be put to much more sinister use. Emails and SMS or WhatsApp messages are just as dangerous. Remember this one piece of advice: don’t write anything in any type of electronic communication that you wouldn’t want to hear read out in a court of law. However innocent or off the cuff a remark may seem at the time, it could be used in evidence against you. Treat social media as a villain just waiting to ambush you.

Let Cape Town Family Lawyers help

If you would like to talk to someone in confidence about divorce give Simon a call on +27 (0) 86 099 5146 or email  sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za.  Simon Dippenaar & Associates Inc. is a Cape Town law firm with expertise in family law.

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Disclaimer

The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.

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