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SEPARATIONS AND SOCIAL MEDIA 

This article was jointly wriiten by Colin Abernethy and Emilie Simpson.

From Facebook to Twitter, Snapchat to Instagram, social media is here to stay.  Whilst social media is great when things are rosy, it can be very risky when separating.

Millions of people share milestones in their lives on social media. From a promotion to a marriage, happy moments are shared daily. But with the highs come the lows, and social media has become a medium through which individuals vent frustrations and personal issues.

In recent years, social media has become a contentious and influencing factor in many legal disputes following a separation. It is important to be mindful of the broader consequences before using social media as an emotional outlet so problems are not caused during what may be a stressful separation. An angry or emotional outburst online can inflame an already sensitive and volatile situation, particularly when child care issues and/or domestic violence issues are involved. 

During a difficult separation, it is sensible to steer clear of social media altogether. Sharing both positive and negative events online can provide compelling and damaging evidence. For example, hateful and negative comments posted online, or angry text messages, can all be produced as evidence in an application to the Court (and now are commonly being used to support applications for Protection Orders).  Similarly, flaunting financial gain online (whether perceived or actual) will not support your position if you are arguing your circumstances have been negatively affected by your separation (or if you are trying to negotiate a lower adjustment payment). Photographic evidence of your presence somewhere could be used to prove unreasonable or abusive behaviour.

When receiving instructions from a client, lawyers routinely complete a social media/online search of the parties involved in an attempt to gather as much information as possible to support their client’s case. A Facebook photo of you having a few quiet drinks with friends could be produced to the Court in an attempt to back-up allegations of alcohol abuse.

Depending on your privacy settings, anything you post online is searchable and could be accessed and used against you should a separation occur. The evolution of social media now means that if you are an active Facebook user, you could be served with an application to the Court via a Facebook direct message.

If you are separating, think about blocking your ex (and perhaps their friends and family) from all online accounts and make your profile as private as possible. Similarly, remove anything that could be unhelpful. Change your passwords regularly, particularly if they are easily guessed and your ex knows what they are. Be aware of who can view your social media posts, text messages and photos. As a general rule, if it is something you do not want your ex, their lawyer (or a lawyer for child) to see, don’t post it.

Take precautions at the start:

When starting a relationship or entering into a Pre-nup/Relationship Property Agreement, consider how you and your significant other will behave if your relationship breaks down (from a social media perspective). By including agreed rules in a Pre-nup agreement, you may reduce the risk of potential damage/embarrassment later, or you could put in place financial penalties if your personal information is broadcast to the world.

If you would like more advice or information regarding a separation or the preparation of a Pre-nup (Contracting Out/Relationship Property) Agreement, please don’t hesitate contact someone from our Family Law team for a confidential discussion.

 

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