Getting Divorced? Choose Your Facebook Posts Carefully

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Now that Facebook has gone public, many are wondering if the social networking site's bubble will burst under pressure from competitors. One industry that's hoping Facebook will remain strong? Divorce lawyers.

WBUR’s Morning Edition host Bob Oakes spoke with Cici Van Tine, a divorce attorney with the Worcester-based firm Mirick O’Connell. She estimates Facebook plays a role in 60 to 70 percent of divorce cases she sees — sometimes as the spark that helped cause the break-up in the first place, in the form of cheating.

“Obviously there’s always been vehicles for people to stray, but I do think that there’s a percentage of the population who may not have strayed 10 or 20 years ago, who as a result of social media now do,” Van Tine said. “In the past, if you were experiencing trouble in your marriage, perhaps you’d seek assistance of a counselor or a trusted friend or adviser, and now with the ease of reconnecting with people from your youth, you’re maybe seeking people that you had a relationship with... forgetting that [that relationship] ended for a reason.”

Van Tine said one of the first things she does when she gets a new divorce case is go on Facebook and see what both her client and the other spouse are posting.

“I think most lawyers will tell you that what they say to people is just clear off of social media during the pendency of the action,” Van Tine explained. “And if you can’t do that, because most of the people are reluctant, what I typically say is, 'Imagine that anything that you text or post or write is going to be put up on a white board in court in front of the judge and everyone in the courtroom.' ”

Van Tine cites a case she handled in which a woman seeking increased child support from her ex-husband claimed she was destitute, but posted pictures from a trip to South Beach, Fla. In those pictures, Van Tine said, the woman was wearing fancy clothes, talking about shopping outings, and drinking champagne. In another case, she said, a woman accused by her husband of drinking heavily, denying that drinking, and jeopardizing the safety of their children, posted multiple pictures of herself out partying with multiple beers in hand and commented about how drunk she had gotten.

If a party in a divorce deletes or destroys material posted on Facebook during the case, he or she can be sanctioned for “spoliation,” the destruction of potentially discoverable information, according to Van Tine.

As for whether Facebook materials are ever challenged by the opposing attorney or judge, Van Tine said that does not typically happen, because the materials are entered during the discovery phase, when they are not considered evidence. They usually help to bolster or rebut one spouse’s or both spouses’ credibility and have the potential to shift a judge’s perception.

Though the incidence of cheating or alleged cheating cited in divorce cases has not increased, Van Tine said, the percentage of cases in which Facebook has been pegged as a factor in the cheating has. A 2011 survey by Divorce Online, a website based in Great Britain, found Facebook blamed in 33 percent of divorces — up from 20 percent two years earlier.

This program aired on May 22, 2012.


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