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Understanding the role of social media in custody disputes

The social media juggernauts, Facebook and Twitter, have changed the way we relate to each other. In the decade since their creation, these social media platforms have become an important part of our everyday existence. Photo sharing platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat offer visual snapshots of our lives. We use social media not just to share our lives, but to discuss them as well.

As wonderful as these applications have been for helping people stay connected, online posts can have very real consequences for people going through divorce and custody battles.

Social media and discovery

If you are using social media while in the midst of a legal dispute, beware. What you post online could hurt your divorce, paternity or post-judgment case.

Anything you post online can be found and is potentially discoverable. Discovery is the legal process of exchanging evidence and names of witnesses that will be used in court. Private messages and other online communications may be subpoenaed as part of discovery process. These online posts can then be used in court against you.

Social media posts provide insight into behaviors

Online posts are frequently used as evidence in placement and custody disputes. With so many parents posting pictures and thoughts about their lives online, social media activities provide courts with a lens into what is really going on in individual lives. Courts may consider this information when trying to evaluate what is in the best interests of a child.

Online behaviors will be scrutinized in divorce and child-related legal disputes. Negative statements, incriminating photos and individual activities may be used to question the judgment of a parent. Photos showing that you or your children were with certain persons, or that you were consuming alcohol or that you were in a certain place at a certain time can be particularly impactful in court. 

Remember that some social media platforms allow others to "tag" you in photos or posts that can also be used against you in court. Discuss your comfort level with friends and family about what they post about you and your children. Make sure that you review your social media accounts too in order to ensure that there are no third party posts about you or your children that you do not approve.

It is critical that people be cautious about what they post online. If you are unsure of whether something is crossing the line, don’t post it and don’t message it. Private messaging may not be as private as you think.  

What you think is private may not be private

It is important to remember that even if you have enabled the most robust privacy settings, what you post online could still be used against you. Just because something you post is not available to the public, does not mean it is private. If you share content with friends, it is likely discoverable in court. Or a friend, relative or acquaintance may share it with your spouse. 

The Internet is forever

Remember that anything you post online can potentially be uncovered and discovered. While you cannot eliminate posts from the past, you can control what you do now. Consider a break from social media if you are in a pending divorce, paternity or post-judgment case or, at a minimum, be very mindful of the online posts you make or third parties make on your behalf!

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