There are many ways to dig up dirt on a spouse in a heated divorce. Surveillance, subpoenas, listening in on the phone, and now logging onto a computer.
According to a recent survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, more than 80 percent of divorce attorneys say they have seen an increase in evidence pulled from social media sites when relationships bust.
“When I see somebody for the first time, one of the things I always say is, ‘I want to see your Facebook page first and foremost,’” says David Cherny, founding partner of the prominent Boston-based family law firm, Atwood and Cherny. He says sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter can provide a wealth of information in a divorce or custody battle.
There’s the guy who posts vacation pictures with his mistress, the woman who is seeking love on an internet dating site even though she’s married, and the spouse who claims to have no money for child support, but brags about a new boat on Twitter.
Cherny says it can, and often will, be used in a court of law.
“In our cases, in Massachusetts, we are not a no fault state, so conduct is still an issue when it comes to dividing assets and awarding alimony. Certainly in a context of a custody case. A picture is always worth a thousand words,” Cherny says.
During a divorce, people will often block or remove a spouse from their network, but that may only provide a false sense of security. Couples often usually have at least a few mutual online friends, and all it takes is one to spill the beans.
In some divorces, people are even taking it a step further, hiring computer forensic companies to do the cyberstalking for them. Experts look for real profiles, and ones created with assumed names.
“As much as you don’t want to look, it’s like a bad accident that you just can’t look,” says Dr. Karen Ruskin, a marriage and family therapist. She says she’s seen people purposefully post hurtful things about their soon-to-be ex’s, only to have it come back and bite them in court.
“It’s important to consider what you’re saying, even though you are angry at that person, even if you’re not suing their name, all your friends know who you are talking about,” Ruskin says. Social media—it is helping lawyers win points when couples disconnect. The bottom line—don’t post anything you wouldn’t want a judge to see.