In acrimonious divorce cases, social media replacing private detectives

By July 24, 2011Divorce

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C posted in Divorce on Sunday, July 24, 2011

In acrimonious divorces, it used to be relatively common for one party or the other to hire a private investigator to spy on their soon-to-be ex-spouse in an attempt to catch them in lies, find out about a new love interest, or document drinking escapades. Now, because of the accessibility of social media, private investigators are becoming obsolete. Often enough, people put their most private moments on record through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

Missouri is a no-fault divorce state, which means that there is no need to prove fault on the part of your spouse to obtain a divorce. A party only needs to show there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage. Embarrassing Facebook posts and the like by your ex are only relevant if there are issues such as child custody and property division in dispute. In a contentious case, however, they can be used as evidence that a party has lied to the court, has hidden income, or is behaving in a way inconsistent with safe parenting.

For example, if one divorcing spouse claims to have quit smoking but then posts a picture on Facebook with a cigarette in his or her hand, the other spouse could use the picture to call that claim into question. If one party claims they are too poor to any spousal support, it would be fair to bring into evidence a Tweet about a new electronics purchase or a trip to Las Vegas.

While it is perfectly reasonable to produce evidence that supports or contradicts a party’s statements, some people do go too far. A Pennsylvania man tricked his estranged wife into “friending” him on Facebook by creating an account for a fake woman, presumably so he could keep tabs on her during the divorce. The judge in his case was not impressed by his duplicity.

One woman, realizing that her divorcing husband had failed to change his e-mail password, accessed e-mails between him and his attorney and forwarded them to her own lawyer. This was a clear violation of attorney-client privilege and, finding that the woman’s law firm had not tried hard enough to stop her, the judge sanctioned the law firm $25,000.

In an emotional time, it’s easy to understand the urge to “spy” on a divorcing spouse, but it’s a very bad idea.

“If you think that in family court the end justifies the means, you’re wrong,” said one attorney interviewed about the issue. “Judges, quite frankly, are interested in the means.”

If you’re anticipating or currently going through a divorce and are worried that your spouse may attempt to use your e-mail or social media posts against you, make sure to change your passwords. Change your security settings to limit your spouse’s access to your information. While taking these steps is important, be aware that it can’t eliminate any risk.

The most important thing is to be judicious about what you post on the web. Once that picture, comment, or Tweet hits the Internet, it is there forever.

Source: stltoday.com, “POKIN AROUND: No need for a private eye; divorce combatants post damaging info themselves,” Steve Pokin, July 8, 2011