Family Law from Facebook to the Courts

81% of lawyers using evidence from Social Networking platforms.

divorce

A recent study from PEW found that 66% of divorce cases used Facebook content as a primary case of evidence - this is an alarmingly high figure for lawyers not well versed in managing social media content, but also unsurprising given the ways in which we use social media in our everyday lives. This is not just limited to divorce cases, as the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers report that 81% if lawyers find court-worthy evidence from social networking platforms - aiding cases all across the Family Law spectrum from divorce, custody, alimony and more.

The insight into the lifestyle and personality of an individual interpreted from what they post and share online can be hugely helpful or detrimental to their case such as proving PAS (parental alienation syndrome), hidden assets, a cheating spouse and more. Not just limited to mainstream social media platforms, but dating websites and others also - the AAML state that 64% of respondents to a survey cited Match.com as a source of evidence in Divorce proceedings. Lawyers in this legal realm have no excuse for ignoring this resource - they have an ethical obligation to be tech savvy and to look for signs on social media to give weight to arguments, as well having the adequate know-how to advise on moderating accounts in the lead-up to a hearing, with many legal professionals and individuals facing Spoliation sanctions as well as stressful hearings due to the editing or deleting of social media and online content.

In an effort to highlight both the need to preserve content and capture incriminating evidence, we have gathered together some key cases regarding social media and online content in Family Law. How can your clients learn from these examples?

B.M. v. D.M., - Content placed on social media is discoverable during divorce and alimony proceedings, as this eager blogger found out. Dorothy McGurk sought $850 per month in alimony from her soon to be ex-husband, claiming disability disability from a car crash. McGurk, however, had a penchant for belly dancing and Reikki training - and blogging about it on Facebook, MySpace and personal blog. Allowing the social media posts as evidence, the Justice found that Mrs. McGurk was not, in fact, disabled - denying the request for continued alimony payments, and awarded her ex-husband 60% of a prior settlement from a car accident and $5,000 in attorney fees.

Melody M v Robert M. - Divorce proceedings often delve into the darker side of Family Law in custody disputes like this case. In this instance, a New York Court terminated a parties’ joint custody agreement and awarded full custody to the father after evidence from the mother’s Facebook account surfaced and was called into dispute - calling her 10 year old son an “asshole” and other derogatory remarks.
In Re Marraige of Bates, an all too common occurrence of PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome) was called into consideration when Facebook posts were used against a mother seeking full physical custody of her children. Whilst mutual respect and support was supposed to be shown by both parties, Mrs Bates posted defamatory statements, such as her children "[H]ave a really bad father" which damaged her case.

Typical examples of social media fails

  • Posting a picture of a new car/ boat/ on holidays after filing to reduce alimony or child support payments or disputing assets
  • Posting from questionable location/ vacation if missing parenting time with kids
  • Being active on a dating site and claiming to be single when still married

Social Media is Discoverable, cannot be Deleted and can overrule Oral Testimony 

Tweets, posts, photos and more can provide an evidentiary timeline of a parties whereabouts, activities, mood and more. They can prove adultery, hidden assets, character references and dark deeds a guilty party might want to hide. Legal ethics don't allow parties engaged in disputes from deleting relevant evidence for risk of spoliation - but users can and should set all settings to private and stop using social media  to publicly communicate and document their life. Authentic evidence captured from social media can work against false statements from depositions and oral testimonies when verified and relevant.

For those active on social media and dealing with Family Law or Divorce Proceedings:

  • Capture all relevant evidence negating a spouses' false claim on social media with an authenticated web-capture tool
  • Set as many settings to private as possible and be wary of oversharing insights into your private life online
  • Ensure that all legal, ethical steps are taken so as not to risk a case by spoliation of your own evidence

Check out WebPreserver's latest  infographic on Divorce and Family Law, providing you with great facts, figures and eDiscovery information.  

Role of WebPreserver

WebPreserver is an innovative eDiscovery tool, essential for the effective and easy creation of evidence from social media and preservation of digital content for litigation purposes; an essential cost and time effective tool for legal professionals, litigation support and law enforcement officials.

With the easy installation of a Plug-in and single-click capture technology, WebPreserver software creates snapshots of evidence from any content place in the internet and stores them in PDF and WARC formats for use in litigation. Digital content is authenticated in line with Federal Rules of Evidence, the E-Sign Act and other standards of compliance by way of a digital e-signature and automated time-stamp.

Not only is strong, reliable evidence created form online content, WebPreserver software also provides secure resources for the archiving, preservation and sharing of this content. Once a Snapshot is created, it can be downloaded or stored on our online platform and shared with clients and colleagues in personal folders, with the additional features of keyword tagging.

Ensure that when engaging in litigation you maintain a high standard of records management and technical compliance; WebPreserver is a simple but effective means of doing this. Avoid sanctions and additional administrative and Discovery costs with the proper utilisation of this leading eDiscovery software.

The information and materials on this blog are provided for general and informative purposes only and are not intended to be construed as legal advice. Content on this blog is not intended to substitute the advice of a licensed attorney, as laws are subject to change and vary with time, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Content on this blog may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct or up-to-date.

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