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How Social Media Activity Can Be Used Against You In Court



It's a new world out there, and people who are going to court need to know how technology impacts their court standing. People who went through a divorce two decades ago never had to worry about what the Internet might do to their proceeding. They certainly didn't have to worry about how social media might be used against them in that court setting. Today's era brings new challenges to bear. If you're not smart with your accounts, you can end up paying a big price. Social media can be used in a number of ways in these proceedings, so know what to expect before you roll into court unprepared.


What kinds of evidence can be collected?

Any good divorce attorney can tell you it's a good rule of thumb to think that almost everything in your digital footprint can be collected and used against you in a divorce proceeding. Most men and women going through a split know that their text messages can be a source of evidence, but Facebook messages and Instagram direct messages can also be used in the proceeding. In the beginning of the proceeding, lawyers in discovery can ask that all social media accounts and information be preserved, along with your phone contacts and other sensitive information. Once that request is made, whatever is in your social media accounts is fair game. According to family law principles, you can't delete or you'll face the wrath of the court.

Many lawyers have found that evidence of messaging, comments, and even likes can be culled for a specific litigation purpose. While the eventual use of these artifacts depends on the trajectory of your case, you'd be wise to assume that all social media activity is fair game.


The potential for libel charges

Many spouses have been caught writing disparaging remarks on their social media sites about their estranged husbands or wives. This is the kind of headache that your divorce attorney just does not need. Some might accuse their partners of cheating. Others might lie about criminal activity or some other nefarious habit. This can be used against you in many ways. For one, it can be used to suggest to the court your instability. On top of that, it could lead to a lawsuit for defamation. In my home state of Oklahoma, for example, family law courts have seen an uptick in civil filings over estranged lovers and their loose lips on Facebook.


Social media posts and custody battles

Courts generally put a moratorium on badmouthing the other person in front of the child during the course of the proceeding. In some cases, if a party is found to have been saying negative things about their partner in front of the child, it can impact the outcome of the custody battle. You should consider how your online activity comports with this rule. Children often have their own Facebook profiles, and if they can find a comment you have made, the court might treat it as if you made the statement directly to the child.


Online stalking and tampering

Quite a few spouses have gotten in trouble for logging into the social media accounts of their former partners. Just as you'll be barred from opening the mail of your ex, you can run into trouble if you access their accounts. It's a good way to ensure that the judge resolves conflicts in your partner's favor, and you might even face a temporary restraining order as a result.

A survey of lawyers around the country found that four in every five ran into problems with their clients' social media accounts. Oklahoma courts have been very willing to admit evidence from social media sites to determine issues of fault and resolve custody questions. Those going through a split should consider that everything they do on social media will have an impact on the outcome of their divorce.

Christopher B is an avid blogger from Tulsa, Oklahoma who is passionate about encouraging healthy family values for all communities while working with the Gorospe & Smith Divorce Attorneys in his own community.

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