These days, drunken photos, death threats and infidelity are more than Facebook fodder: Social media is becoming pivotal evidence in a court of law.
“Recently, we had a situation where a man was not allowed to take his kids out-of-state, then posted pictures on Facebook of himself with his kids in Montana,” recalls Alisse Camazine of Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal. “Another man posted a Facebook photo of his daughter sitting on his lap while he was at a bar with a beer in his hand.” Others have posted public Facebook messages revealing affairs, and even used Twitter to make death threats to spouses, she adds.
Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter become gold mines for incriminating evidence, particularly during hotly contested divorce and child custody trials, according to local family law attorneys. “The fact is, most people today are actively involved in social media, and they tend to bear all thoughts and emotions on sites like Twitter,” says Margo Green of Green Cordonnier & House. “People are not taking social networking seriously enough—it could be used in a lawsuit.” The acts of indiscretion—detailed with names, dates, information and images—become hard proof that is simply printed off the social media site and displayed in the courtroom as evidence of irresponsibility, deceit and even child neglect.
For that reason, social networking has become a mandatory discussion during the preparation of family law cases. At Zerman Mogerman, the media are part of almost every trial. “So many people use at least one form of social networking,” says Stephanie Jones, a family lawyer at the firm. Because the practice is such a common part of people’s everyday lives, clients are asked for a list of social sites they participate in, then there is a discussion about how they should use them during the case. Clients should avoid posting any information about trials on the Internet, and only use social networking for neutral, private interactions with trusted colleagues and friends. When clients start to step over the line on public websites, lawyers warn that negative consequences can quickly follow. For example, if a client has a profile on a dating site such as eHarmony or Match.com, Jones cautions against public deceit, such as fudging a marital status by listing single before a divorce is final. “They need to know that can impact the divorce case.”
To maintain your online reputation, Jones recommends checking your privacy settings on Facebook and Twitter, filtering your friends and even Googling yourself to find out what pops up for your name. “You should also think about stopping posting, blogging and tweeting—you really need to consider the cons and what a judge would think if he looked at that.” Other local family law attorneys discourage any use of social media sites during court cases. “They should take down their pages during or before their divorce, so there is no trouble,” Green says. “What you post or what acquaintances post about you can come back to haunt you.”