Social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat can not only contribute to the demise of a marriage, they can cause endless trouble in a divorce. If you're going to be social online, you need to be smart in real life.
Social media is a double-edged sword. These platforms can provide a wealth of social connection and support, which are invaluable if you're stressed out, lonely, or isolated. Unfortunately, if you're already feeling like something is missing in your life, social media can also make you vulnerable to further discontent. Everyone else's (carefully-curated) life looks better on Facebook, increasing your dissatisfaction.
If you have a spouse who seems to always be at work, out with friends, or focused on the kids, it can be thrilling to have an innocent online flirtation with that ex from high school. Eventually, of course, your spouse may find out, leading to a huge argument. There's also the possibility that your "innocent" flirtation might escalate into a full-blown affair. Even if you're not doing anything wrong at all, too-frequent use of social media diverts your attention from your family. That may make your spouse suspicious of your online activity, leading to more conflict in your marriage.
How do media like Facebook and Twitter affect divorce? Some studies estimate that social media are a factor in one out of five divorces; other sources put that figure at closer to one in three. Either way, it's important to recognize the risk social media poses both to your marriage, and to the outcome of your divorce if your marriage can't be saved.
Social media in a marriage is like ivy on a building. It may appear harmless, but if there are cracks in the structure, it's easier for the intruder to gain a foothold and cause destruction. Step one in protecting your marriage is recognizing if there are any weaknesses in the structure.
If you feel like your spouse isn't giving you enough attention, for example, the answer isn't to express your frustration in 140 characters on Twitter; it's to talk to your spouse. Turning to social media creates two problems: you're not addressing the problem with the person who can help solve it, and you're airing marital trouble to people who have no business knowing about it. Your spouse may (rightly) see that as a betrayal.
When you're tempted to vent on Facebook or Twitter, ask yourself how you'd feel if your spouse posted —the same words about you. If you'd be hurt or angry, so will they—so step away from the keyboard.
This caution goes double for online friendships which could evolve into an emotional or physical affair. Before hitting "send" on a message, ask yourself if you'd be fine with your spouse reading it. If the honest answer is "no," recognize that you're crossing a line.
Asking how your spouse would feel when reading your posts, comments, tweets and messages isn't merely an exercise, by the way. A poll by a British law firm indicated that 58% of people said they knew their spouses' online passwords—even if the spouse didn't know they knew.
Recognize the specific ways in which social media use can harm you. If your post on social media reveals a new, expensive purchase, especially if you've been crying poor to your spouse, it could come back to haunt you when child support, spousal maintenance, or property division are determined. If you're tagged in a picture at a party with a love interest, or engaged in questionable behavior, that may be used as evidence against you in a custody battle.
If you post on Facebook, Twitter, on InstaGram about your animosity toward your spouse, that could be used to portray you as someone who is unable to cooperate in co-parenting. And if anything you post on social media contradicts what you've told a spouse or judge, you could be portrayed as untruthful, with doubt cast on your general credibility.
If you're thinking right now that you're experienced in the use of social media and that your privacy settings will protect you, don't be too sure. There are plenty of ways those walls can be breached. As noted above, a spouse may know (or guess) your password. A friend may tag you in a photo without your knowledge. A mutual friend you forgot to block may feed screenshots to your spouse. Someone acting on your spouse's behalf might send you a friend request that you accept, giving them access to information they can then share with your spouse.
One survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported that two-thirds of attorneys had gathered information on a client's spouse via Facebook. Therefore, if you must use social media like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Instagram, don't post any content you don't want to reach your spouse's attorney, lest it end up in front of your judge.
Because you should assume your spouse's attorney will know how to gather evidence from social media, you should also have a divorce attorney who's just as skilled to safeguard your own interests. Feel free to contact us for more on how to protect yourself.
With all its risks, however, social media still has benefits for those going through a divorce, like the ability to receive support from far-flung family and friends. It's also an opportunity to lead by example. Refrain from posting bitter thoughts or negative observations about an ex. Instead, accentuate the positive (like what a great time your child had with your ex last weekend) and model respect. Not only will this promote a cordial relationship with your ex, but it will send a signal to your loved ones that they, too, should behave respectfully toward your child's other parent. In the end, your child is the one who will benefit most.