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Facebook and Divorce: Airing the Dirty Laundry

Belinda Luscombe TIME 06/18/2009 16:15
Facebook and Divorce: Airing the Dirty Laundry - Facebook - relationship - Internet - divorce


Not long after Patrick told his wife Tammie he wanted a divorce, she posted an angry, hurt note on "the wall," or public-comments section, of his Facebook page. Embarrassed that his colleagues, clients, church friends and family could see evidence of his marital woes, he deleted it and blocked his wife from seeing his page.



A couple of days later, the IT worker in Florida--who asked that his last name not be used in this story — found alarmed messages from two Facebook friends in his inbox. Tammie had used a mutual friend's account to view Patrick's wall and e-mailed several women he had had exchanges with. He says her e-mails were borderline defamatory. She says they merely noted that he was married with children, a fact he had left off his Facebook profile. Either way: Ouch.

For those who want to connect or reconnect with others, social-networking sites are a huge, glorious honeypot. But for those who are disconnecting, they can make things quite sticky. And as the age of online-social-network users creeps up, it overlaps more with the age of divorce-lawyer users, resulting in the kind of semipublic laundry-airing that can turn aggrieved spouses into enraged ones and friends into embarrassed spectators.

Lawyers, however, love these sites, which can be evidentiary gold mines. Did your husband's new girlfriend Twitter about getting a piece of jewelry? The court might regard that as marital assets being disbursed to a third party. Did your wife tell the court she's incapable of getting a job? Then your lawyer should ask why she's pursuing job interviews through LinkedIn.

Battles over finances and custody remain the Iwo Jima and Stalingrad of divorce cases. Opposing lawyers will press any advantage they have, and personal information on sites like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn is like decoded bulletins from enemy territory. "It's now just routine for us to go over with clients whether they have an active presence on the Web and if they Twitter or have a MySpace page," says Joseph Cordell of Cordell & Cordell, a domestic-relations law firm with offices in 10 states. He advises his mostly male clients to scour their page — and their girlfriend's — for anything that could be used by their ex's legal team. Then Cordell studies the page of the soon-to-be ex-wife.

"We had a custody case where a mom assured the court that she hadn't been drinking," recalls the Missouri-based attorney. "But her MySpace page had actual dated photos of her drinking — and smoking, which is also of interest." In another case, a mom had listed herself on a dating site as single with no kids, which Cordell's firm used to cast doubt on her truthfulness.

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