Can social media be a source of evidence during a California divorce?

Information shared through social media can have huge impacts on various aspects of a divorce, including asset division, child custody and spousal support.

Many people in Sacramento use social media on a regular basis without giving much thought to the potential impacts of revealing so much personal information. Unfortunately, personal information shared through posts, photographs, messages and even location check-ins can have serious consequences during various legal proceedings, including divorce. This information may impact asset division, child custody arrangements and orders for child or spousal support.

Impacts of social media evidence

Online activity may affect a parent's chances of receiving custody or visitation, since it may reflect on a parent's lifestyle or parental fitness, according to The Huffington Post. Rants or complaints about the ex-spouse may suggest that a parent would not support a positive relationship between the child and the ex-spouse. A child's own activity may negatively affect a parent's case. For instance, if a child's posts indicate the parent allows questionable activities, it may reflect poorly on the parent.

Forbes notes that social media activity can also have a huge financial impact during divorce. Photos or statuses may point to hidden assets, such as personal income or physical property. This could be especially impactful in California, since the state's community property laws require a 50-50 division of all marital property. Similarly, online activity may indicate a spouse is exaggerating his or her financial need in the hopes of receiving or avoiding a larger spousal support payment.

The use of social media evidence is surprisingly common. Forbes notes that 81 percent of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers members who were surveyed in 2012 reported seeing more social media activity being used as evidence in divorce cases. Facebook was the most common source of evidence then, but virtually any website, from Twitter to Instagram, could potentially provide incriminating information today.

Minimizing social media missteps

Many people believe they can minimize the risk of harmful social media slip-ups by maintaining strict privacy settings, choosing their friends carefully and simply refraining from sharing sensitive information. However, The Huffington Post points out that social media may still cause trouble for the following reasons:

  • Other people's posts can also reflect badly on a person. For instance, if a parent with a history of substance abuse problems is tagged in a photo that shows heavy drinking, the parent may receive less favorable custody and visitation orders.
  • The accuracy or intention of social media posts is not always relevant. For example, a comment that a parent posts in a moment of anger or in a joking manner may be misinterpreted.
  • Posts can't be taken back or erased. Deleting a post could be considered destroying evidence, and true deletion may not even be possible, as other people can preserve the post through screen shots or similar measures.
  • Online privacy is difficult to protect. Even people who use strict settings may see sensitive information made public if a "friend" chooses to share it or give others access to his or her account.

In light of all of these risks, deactivating or deleting social media accounts for the duration of divorce proceedings can be a beneficial step.

Preparing for divorce

Anyone who is considering seeking a divorce in California should consider meeting with a family law attorney beforehand. An attorney can help a parent understand the various factors that may affect the final outcome of the divorce proceedings, including social media activity.

Keywords: divorce, assets, custody, support