Divorce lawyers: Facebook tops in online evidence

Jun 28, 2010 By LEANNE ITALIE , Associated Press Writer
Divorce attorneys Leslie, left, and Ken Matthews are shown in the offices of their firm in Denver, Friday, June 25, 2010. They estimated 1 in 10 of their cases involves evidence plucked from social networking sites. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP) -- Forgot to de-friend your wife on Facebook while posting vacation shots of your mistress? Her divorce lawyer will be thrilled.

Oversharing on social networks has led to an overabundance of evidence in cases. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers says 81 percent of its members have used or faced evidence plucked from , MySpace, and other , including and , over the last five years.

"Oh, I've had some fun ones," said Linda Lea Viken, president-elect of the 1,600-member group. "It's very, very common in my new cases."

Facebook is the unrivaled leader for turning virtual reality into real-life divorce drama, Viken said. Sixty-six percent of the lawyers surveyed cited Facebook foibles as the source of online evidence, she said. MySpace followed with 15 percent, followed by Twitter at 5 percent.

About one in five adults uses Facebook for flirting, according to a 2008 report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. But it's not just kissy pix with the manstress or mistress that show up as evidence. Think of Dad forcing son to de-friend mom, bolstering her alienation of affection claim against him.

"This sort of evidence has gone from nothing to a large percentage of my cases coming in, and it's pretty darn easy," Viken said. "It's like, `Are you kidding me?'"

Neither Viken, in Rapid City, S.D., nor other divorce attorneys would besmirch the attorney-client privilege by revealing the identities of clients, but they spoke in broad terms about some of the goofs they've encountered:

- Husband goes on Match.com and declares his single, childless status while seeking primary custody of said nonexistent children.

- Husband denies anger management issues but posts on Facebook in his "write something about yourself" section: "If you have the balls to get in my face, I'll kick your ass into submission."

- Father seeks custody of the kids, claiming (among other things) that his ex-wife never attends the events of their young ones. Subpoenaed evidence from the gaming site World of Warcraft tracks her there with her boyfriend at the precise time she was supposed to be out with the children. Mom loves Facebook's Farmville, too, at all the wrong times.

- Mom denies in court that she smokes marijuana but posts partying, pot-smoking photos of herself on Facebook.

The disconnect between real life and online is hardly unique to partners de-coupling in the United States. A DIY divorce site in the United Kingdom, Divorce-Online, reported the word "Facebook" appeared late last year in about one in five of the petitions it was handling. (The company's caseload now amounts to about 7,000.)

Divorce attorneys Ken and Leslie Matthews, a husband and wife team in Denver, Colo., don't see quite as many online gems. They estimated 1 in 10 of their cases involves such evidence, compared to a rare case or no cases at all in each of the last three years. Regardless, it's powerful evidence to plunk down before a judge, they said.

"You're finding information that you just never get in the normal discovery process - ever," Leslie Matthews said. "People are just blabbing things all over Facebook. People don't yet quite connect what they're saying in their divorce cases is completely different from what they're saying on Facebook. It doesn't even occur to them that they'd be found out."

Social networks are also ripe for divorce-related hate and smear campaigns among battling spousal camps, sometimes spawning legal cases of their own.

"It's all pretty good evidence," Viken said. "You can't really fake a page off of Facebook. The judges don't really have any problems letting it in."

The attorneys offer these tips for making sure your out-loud personal life online doesn't wind up in divorce court:

WHAT YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE HELD AGAINST YOU

If you plan on lying under oath, don't load up social networks with evidence to the contrary.

"We tell our clients when they come in, `I want to see your Facebook page. I want you to remember that the judge can read that stuff so never write anything you don't want the judge to hear,'" Viken said.

BEWARE YOUR FRENEMIES

Going through a divorce is about as emotional as it gets for many couples. The desire to talk trash is great, but so is the pull for friends to take sides.
"They think these people can help get them through it," said Marlene Eskind Moses, a family law expert in Nashville, Tenn., and current president of the elite academy of divorce attorneys. "It's the worst possible time to share your feelings online."

A PICTURE MAY BE WORTH ... BIG BUCKS

Grown-ups on a good day should know better than to post boozy, carousing or sexually explicit photos of themselves online, but in the middle of a contentious divorce? Ken Matthews recalls photos of a client's partially naked estranged wife alongside pictures of their kids on Facebook.

"He was hearing bizarre stories from his kids. Guys around the house all the time. Men running in and out. And there were these pictures," Matthews said.
PRIVACY, PRIVACY, PRIVACY

They're called privacy settings for a reason. Find them. Get to know them. Use them. Keep up when Facebook decides to change them.

Viken tells a familiar story: A client accused her spouse of adultery and he denied it in court. "The guy testified he didn't have a relationship with this woman. They were just friends. The girlfriend hadn't put security on her page and there they were. `Gee judge, who lied to you?'"

Explore further: Turkey still hopes Twitter will open local office

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fla. judges, lawyers must 'unfriend' on Facebook

Dec 12, 2009

(AP) -- Florida's judges and lawyers should no longer "friend" each other on Facebook, the popular social networking site, according to a ruling from the state's Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee.

Social networking aggregator sues Facebook

Jul 10, 2009

(AP) -- In a counter-punch to the world's biggest online hangout, a small Web company called Power.com has sued Facebook, saying it doesn't follow its own policy of giving users control over their content.

Facebook profiles to play up brand and band pages

Apr 19, 2010

(AP) -- Facebook is revamping users' profiles to emphasize the pages for bands, books and businesses that millions have become fans of on the world's largest online social network.

Researcher Helps People See Beyond the 'Typical' Divorce

Dec 09, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- According to a University of Missouri family researcher, there is no “typical divorce.” Realizing this, friends and family members of people experiencing divorce should be aware of the appropriate type ...

Watchdog: Facebook violates Canadian privacy law

Jul 16, 2009

(AP) -- Canada's privacy commissioner says the online social networking site Facebook breaches Canadian law by keeping users personal information indefinitely after members close their accounts.

Recommended for you

White House updating online privacy policy

5 minutes ago

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

Net neutrality balancing act

19 hours ago

Researchers in Italy, writing in the International Journal of Technology, Policy and Management have demonstrated that net neutrality benefits content creator and consumers without compromising provider innovation nor pr ...

Twitter rules out Turkey office amid tax row

Apr 16, 2014

Social networking company Twitter on Wednesday rejected demands from the Turkish government to open an office there, following accusations of tax evasion and a two-week ban on the service.

How does false information spread online?

Apr 16, 2014

Last summer the World Economic Forum (WEF) invited its 1,500 council members to identify top trends facing the world, including what should be done about them. The WEF consists of 80 councils covering a wide range of issues including social media. Members come ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Venture investments jump to $9.5B in 1Q

Funding for U.S. startup companies soared 57 percent in the first quarter to a level not seen since 2001, as venture capitalists piled more money into an increasing number of deals, according to a report due out Friday.

White House updating online privacy policy

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...