Family Law Blog

Be Wary Using Social Media During Separation

The headline of this article probably doesn’t come as a surprise to everyone. However, with social media being a dominant and largely public form of sharing our thoughts and experiences, the importance of managing your social media use during (and arguably before and after) separation can’t be understated.

In this article we’ll set out some fundamental dos and don’ts of social media use in separation, as well as a few potential consequences if things go awry.

The Golden Rule of Social Media in Separation

If you remember only one thing about this article, make this it.

Expect that anything you post on social media might be read aloud in Court, shown to you in a public setting, or given to a Judge in an affidavit.

If you wouldn’t be comfortable with that occurring for any reason of any kind, then don’t post it.

Of course, as family lawyers we’d really prefer that our clients going through separation just stayed off social media completely. But assuming you can’t or won’t do that, let’s dig in a bit more to some big picture guidance about what is or isn’t a good idea.

Check your Privacy Settings

First and foremost: understand who can see what you post online.

Many people don’t stop to check whether their posts are available to the public at large, a select group of friends, or some other group entirely.

Now is the time to do it. The more limited your post visibility is, the lower the risk of something going horribly wrong.

Similarly, check your “tagging” settings. Can others tag you in photos or in posts? You might want to consider turning off that feature where possible, to avoid being prominent in unexpected posts.

Of course this doesn’t stop someone who CAN see your post taking a screenshot and sharing it, but at the very least have a good understanding of the immediate reach anything you post is going to have.

Should you Update Your Relationship Status?

Many social media sites allow you to declare your relationships with others, including the person who is (or is about to become) your ex.

For many people, changing your relationship status “officially” online can bring a flood of communications, concerns, questions and emotions.

Bear in mind that you and your ex might be at different places in the emotional parts of your separation, and the simple act of clicking a button to declare your singleness could cause some significant ripple effects.

We’re not suggesting that your behaviour needs to second-guess your ex’s reaction at every step, but just to be aware that the public declaration of a relationship ending is probably going to have a broader impact than you might initially think.

Do a “Friend Sweep”

Many couples end up with a collection of overlapping friends on social media.

It can be a good idea to ask this difficult question: are the people in your list of contacts/friends on a given social media channel actually your friends?

Of course this isn’t that easy to figure out, and you don’t necessarily want to burn a bunch of friendships right out of the gate.

For that reason, it remains imperative to ensure that your posting habits are limited. There’s a good chance that some of your friends are still in contact with your ex, and innocently or otherwise may be sharing information with them.

Posting about your Ex

Posting anything that in any way could be interpreted as a dig at your ex is a terrible idea.

This includes even subtle things like “I’m finally getting to do XYZ that I’ve wanted to do for years” which could be interpreted as a criticism.

First, it will adversely affect any potential negotiations if your ex knows (or just thinks) you are publicly being critical of them.

Next, posts that are negative about your ex might be used to try and impugn your character or credibility in a Court context.

Consider this example: you post “Bruce never bought me anything nice in the 10 years we were together, so I picked up this [thing] for myself”.

Then, Bruce’s lawyers put together a list of 195 “nice” things that Bruce bought for you during your relationship.

The truth of your statement is now in question.

And then imagine that something similar happens for another post, and another, and another.

All of a sudden you look like someone who doesn’t tell the truth.

In truth, it’s best just to stay completely away from posting about your ex or your relationship at all while going through separation.

Posting about your Lifestyle

It’s the pinnacle of social media to post pictures of yourself having a good time being places or doing things, right?

Not necessarily if you’re going through separation. There are a couple of reasons.

First, if there is any chance that you might make an application for spousal maintenance, such pictures can be harmful to the outcome.

As an example: you want to argue that you’ll struggle to put food on the table for the kids without your ex’s contribution. Then, you post a picture of yourself purchasing a string of expensive designer items. That picture is not going to work in your favour, even if there is a rational explanation for it.

Next, if the lifestyle you present on social media is inconsistent with the financial disclosure you have made in the Court proceedings, then this is going to invite questions and scepticism. Perhaps you’re hiding a source of income, or more generally that you’ve failed to disclose your situation frankly.

Illegal Things to Post

There are some things that it’s just straight up unlawful to post about the other parties when a Family Court proceeding is on foot.

The basic idea is that you’re not supposed to disclose anything that might allow the identification of a party, child, witness or participant in a Family Law proceeding.

The kinds of information covered include:

  1. names and addresses of the parties;
  2. property ownership details;
  3. relationships between the parties;
  4. the physical descriptions of participants;
  5. employment details of the parties;
  6. interests or faith of the individuals involved.

As there’s a potential for up to 12 months imprisonment for a breach of this, make sure you understand what’s covered in discussion with your family lawyers.

Just Assume It’s All Public

Family Lawyers commonly use social media monitoring on other parties to a separation, for all the reasons we have set out above.

Just like we started: assume what you post will go public, and act accordingly.

But our best advice is this: have a conversation with your family lawyers very early about what you should be doing with social media. That way nobody gets any nasty surprises and your interests and wellbeing are protected.

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