Social Media and Custody Battles Don’t Mix - Marrison Family Law

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Social Media and Custody Battles Don’t Mix

Thursday, 26 July 2012

social_media_custody_battleAs the audience for social media sites continues to grow, many divorce attorneys are advising their clients to be careful with their online presence.  Some are going as far as telling them to delete their Facebook accounts right away, particularly clients who are involved in a custody battle.  But that isn’t always necessary.  Family lawyers often recommend a new level of privacy on social media accounts.

Whether you use Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Google+ or LinkedIn, there are several different ways to protect your privacy and limit access to your personal information. But don’t stop there; it is also important to prevent people from posting potentially damaging material to your social media profiles. Parties in a divorce or child custody battle can, and often do, look at their former spouse's pages and try to use that information against them in custody and support hearings.

What are the dangers of social media in a custody battle?  That drunken video that you made with your old college buddies is probably still floating around out there, just waiting for you to be tagged in it on Facebook.  You could have innocently complained about your ex to a coworker, only to find they posted something about it on your Facebook wall later that day.  Basically, when it comes to social media it’s not just what you’re saying; it’s what everyone else is saying about you.  Photographs, wall posts, comments and status updates could all be used to prove you are an unfit parent.  That’s why it’s more important than ever to remove any questionable content from your profiles.

How to Limit Access to Your Profile

The best first step in evaluating your social media profiles is to check the privacy settings you have in place.  Most people don’t realize how much of their information is public.  For example, all Facebook cover photos are public, so you should never post anything sensitive there.  Photos that you are tagged in are more likely to be visible to strangers, so you might want to consider un-tagging yourself in some of them.  In the future, change your Facebook settings to alert you whenever someone tries to tag you.  This way you will not be surprised to find an embarrassing photo on your profile.

This may seem obvious, but it’s a good idea to limit your friend list to people who you are truly friends with.  If you have a number of “Facebook-only” friends, it’s time to reduce your online exposure by deleting them.  Another option is to add them to a Restricted List.  This means they only see the information you make public.

Don’t assume that your ex can’t see your profile

Keep in mind that your former spouse may still have access to your Facebook page through a mutual friend or through your child’s account, so always assume your ex is reading everything you post. If your kids have access to your profile, make sure they don’t have your password.  When they spend time with the other parent they could log in as you and inadvertently show your private information.

Kids may repeat what you say

Divorce lawyers say this all this time, but in a social media world it’s even more important – don’t demean your former spouse in front of the kids.  As tempting as it may be, and it is very tempting, find a friend or family member who will listen to your woes and don’t let your kids hear you vent.  Kids don’t have the ability to self-edit and they can easily repeat what they’ve heard around the house.  The negative things you say can be used against you in court to show you’re not looking out for the child’s relationship with their other parent.

Check out your kids’ profiles

You may not have thought of this, but it’s not legal for kids under the age of 13 to have a Facebook account.  While there is no formal way to prove age when they register, the Federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) mandates that these sites collect information about users.  It also specifies that no one under the age of 13 may have a social media profile.  Accordingly, if you have given your child permission to be on Facebook it may be hard to justify this in court.

The court will want to be sure you understand how to protect your child’s online privacy and that your kids understand the consequences of their posts.  One example of this is how kids tend to post where they’re going on vacation and when.  If this information falls in the hands of the wrong person, your house could be robbed.  You will also need to protect your children from strangers who may be able to figure out where they live or attend school.

Many divorce lawyers will simply tell you to deactivate social media accounts until your custody order is final.   However as long as you remain vigilant about privacy and keep your communications civil it should be okay to maintain social media connections.  Staying connected with family and friends is crucial during such a stressful time; just make sure these connections don’t jeopardize your chances of winning.

Image courtesy of Sujin Jetkasettakorn/

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MPatMarrisonFor over a quarter century, we have helped people during what is often the darkest time in their lives. Divorce is not easy even under the best of circumstances. For most people, family is central. Having something go wrong in the family can have a ripple effect that extends beyond the home and into other areas.

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