Divorce is a stressful, life-changing event that can cause emotional and financial trauma. The Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale indicates divorce is the second-highest stressor possible, second only to the death of a spouse. Transformational, traumatic, and emotional, divorces can bring out unexpected reactionary behavior that’s impulsive and devoid of logic. Social media is a good way to pass the time, stay in touch with family and friends, follow your interests and get news. Unfortunately, people are sometimes too social on social media and overshare private information that can easily be reshared outside of their intended audience.
When it comes to social media and divorce, any online activity can be used as evidence. For this reason, it’s safest to stay off social media altogether. Social media evidence is now routinely admitted in New Jersey family law and divorce cases, child support hearings, parenting plans, alimony reduction, child support hearings, asset distribution, domestic violence and child custody visitation disputes.
However, if you do choose to stay active online while going through a divorce, here are some best practices you should follow to avoid building a social media evidentiary minefield.
1. Proof of Assets
New Jersey is an equitable distribution state. Both parties need to provide complete and accurate information for a judge to determine what constitutes a fair distribution of marital assets. In some instances, social media posts can provide clues to hidden assets and be used to prove that a spouse is in possession of property they had not previously disclosed.
This becomes problematic if someone claims they cannot afford to pay spousal support but are pictured traveling or with a new car. The riskiest part about social media and divorce is that evidence doesn’t have to be gathered directly from your accounts. Even if you block your spouse on social media, mutual friends may still have access to your activity, tag you in a photo or a good friend may even upload a harmless post that takes on a new meaning in divorce court.
2. Dating Site Profiles
The average length of a divorce in New Jersey, from the date a spouse files the complaint, is between 10 and 12 months. For someone with a complex case stretching over several years, it may not be realistic to wait to date until the divorce is finalized. However, dating a new partner during a divorce can increase conflict, delay divorce proceedings and increase attorney fees.
Use discretion when dating. You and your new partner shouldn’t post things online if it is going to antagonize your soon-to-be-ex-spouse. If you’re using an online dating site, be sure to check what permissions you set to protect your social media accounts. Always try to create an independent profile that is not linked to your other social media accounts.
3. Change Your Passwords
According to the Pew Research Center, 67% of couples share passwords. It’s highly advisable to change all your personal account passwords, starting with your email, as this account is usually linked to other subscription services you have.
You should also stop sharing electronic devices and steaming sites as personal message notifications may pop up on these devices. When it comes to using email or social media during divorce, even the most innocent messages can be misconstrued, so it's best not to leave anything to chance.
Note: This does not apply to joint bank account passwords. Shared bank accounts are considered marital property; therefore, each party has the right to access these funds. If you prohibit your spouse from using these accounts, you can risk criminal contempt charges, which will not bode well in court.
4. Online Libel
As tempting as it may be, do not speak negatively or engage in conversations about your spouse online with anyone. Whether your words are texted, typed or spoken aloud, they can be used against you in court. And sometimes poor use of social media during a divorce can have unintended consequences.
For example, you may post a negative statement about your spouse online. Their boss may read it and decide not to promote them, which could directly impact their ability to provide alimony. While this may not have been your intention, there are too many variables at stake during a divorce that don’t always play out as intended.
5. Posting Photos
It is advisable not to post any pictures on social media during divorce. Even the best-intentioned, innocent photographs can become incriminating in court. For example, it might be argued that photographs of you partying (posted by a friend) on the weekend demonstrates irresponsibility and that you shouldn’t be granted custody of your children.
Steer clear from posting statuses and photos related to dating, gambling, medication, partying, drinking or online trading. Essentially, anything that has the potential to be interpreted as morally dubious can have negative effects on your divorce proceeding’s outcomes.
Be cautious when texting to your spouse or to friends and family about your spouse while going through divorce. Screenshots can be used in court, and text messages can be manipulated and easily misconstrued.
New Jersey attorneys may utilize many sources to obtain evidence in divorce cases. This includes, but is not limited to:
- your personal social media account
- a new partner’s social media account
- texts to mutual friends.
And it’s not just social media networks, but all devices that information can be stored on as well.
During divorce litigation, social media accounts along with their contents may need to be produced as evidence, so using social media during a divorce should be done with extreme caution, if at all. The last thing you want is to be disadvantaged due to a spontaneous photo upload or online rant. Instead, don’t give any opportunity for someone to use online content against you.
New Jersey Attorneys
Divorce has complicated legal, financial, and emotional issues. Stolfe Zeigler New Jersey Family Law Group is a divorce and family law firm serving all of New Jersey. Founding partners Abigale M. Stolfe and Sonya K. Zeigler are skilled attorneys who are well-equipped to help individuals navigate the complex family legal system of divorce, child custody, and property distribution. The legal team at Stolfe Zeigler is committed to securing a bright future for the clients and families they serve, through guided insight and zealous advocacy, and fighting to protect what they have worked so hard to earn.
Contact the experienced and caring attorneys at Stolfe Zeigler today at (732) 585-1651 for a consultation.