Facebook and Social Media in Family Law Cases

Technology use has risen exponentially over the past few years, and for the most part it has been good. We can now stay in touch with distant family and old friends.

Technology has allowed our law practice to service clients like never before. We can make instant electronic copies of all documents sent and received. We can file pleadings electronically and are able to view the local court docket on-line. We receive faxes electronically and can communicate with and respond to clients and opposing counsel on the go with increasingly sophisticated mobile devices. We can also reach prospective clients all over the world through our website.

Social networking has come a long way in the past two decades from Prodigy, to AOL to MySpace. Most recently use of social networking has skyrocketed with the advent of Facebook. Families share pictures on sites like Flickr and friends share videos on sites like YouTube. Millions of people communicate daily with people via messaging, email and video conferencing with Skype or FaceTime.

Our lives are enhanced in so many ways by technology use. We can make dinner reservations or buy movie tickets with a few clicks. We can find out about weather, news, traffic or parking garage capacity with a few taps on our touch screens.

Unfortunately with this new interconnectedness new problems have also arisen. In our Pittsburgh family law practice we have seen how social media can be abused. We have seen issues involving minors bullying peers or being bullied. We have seen ex-spouses, ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends harassed, threatened or defamed. We have seen private emails, pictures and videos that have been shared publicly.

In our divorce, custody and protection from abuse (PFA) cases there has been a major increase in the use of text messages, emails, voicemails, facebook wall postings, and on-line pictures in litigation.

In divorce cases we have seen infidelity exposed through phone records, emails and pictures. In custody cases, we have seen parents hurt their cases with inappropriate facebook postings, text messages, emails and voicemails.

Likewise, in PFA cases we have seen threats or harassment perpetrated via email, text, voicemail and facebook postings. Even child support and spousal support cases have been affected by on-line postings.

These days, just about all of our prospective clients are using social media sites, most of them are on Facebook. We caution all of our new clients about the use of these sites, and strongly recommend that they cancel their accounts or that they use these accounts with great care if they decide to keep them.

Now with the “timeline” feature on Facebook, old-pictures from long ago partying days in college may be looking you right in the face at court. It’s not fun to explain to a judge about a picture revealing obvious intoxication, the use of drugs, or other embarrassing conduct.

To avoid future problems with social media, we strongly suggest you think twice (then again) about whether that picture of you doing a keg-stand at the Jimmy Buffet concert really needs to be shared. (The answer is NO!) Likewise, it’s not a good idea to take a picture topless in Cancun, or holding a bag of marijuana, or posing with an assault rifle.
We could list example after example of cases where compromising pictures are worth a thousand words. We have used them to the advantage of our clients and we have also had to explain them.

Wherever you go today somebody has a camera or camera-phone and in seconds your picture or video can be uploaded and shared with the world. Knowing that capability exists, you should seriously consider how you act in public and with whom you associate.

Bottom line, technology is here to stay. If you are involved in any type of litigation, there is a pretty good chance that something you wrote or said or did is going to find its way into your case. If you behave well and lawfully you should have nothing to worry about.