Contributed by Jennifer A. Brandt
According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, one third of all divorce filings in 2011 contained the word "Facebook," up from 20 percent just three years ago. Sadly, this plays out in my practice almost daily. Just about every case that comes into my office has some internet component, whether it is related to activity on Facebook, emails or text messages containing content that could reveal infidelity or inappropriate behavior. This is a constant in divorce cases today.
But there are things couples can do to participate in social media without putting their marriage in jeopardy, and to protect themselves and their children if the marriage does break down. Here are five tips for protecting your marriage in the age of social media.
Share your social media passwords with your spouse
So many cases involve spouses engaging in private conversations online which creates suspicion, jealousy and distrust in a relationship. Transparency is core to a strong marriage. Allow your spouse to see what you are up to online, "friend" their friends, and let them into your online world.
Use the delete button
Since Facebook and Twitter posts are usually so short, it's easy to misread or misinterpret the meaning of a comment without additional context. When in doubt, delete. If you're not sure how someone will take your comment, it's better not to say it at all.
Refrain from badmouthing your spouse
Some clients think that they can get a bigger economic settlement if they write unflattering things about their spouse, or reveal infidelity online. In reality, that will not impact the economic aspect of the divorce. That said, where it can have an impact is a custody matter and who is the better parent to be with the children on a primary basis.
Don't send inappropriate messages to Facebook "friends"
It's easy to mistake Facebook friends for real friends, making it easy to share more than you probably should. Sending inappropriate messages on Facebook can have unintended consequences, especially if they get read by friends of friends and people you may not even know. The legal consequences of this could go beyond the state of your marriage.
Be mindful of the emotional impact of social media
Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media are a kind of voyeurism, giving participants a chance to see what's going on in the lives of neighbors, co-workers, friends, exes and anyone else. Think about how it might make your spouse feel to know that you are "friends" with your ex on Facebook. Even if you're not engaging in inappropriate behavior, it could be adding unnecessary stress to your marriage.
>>Jennifer A. Brandt is a family law attorney specializing in divorce, custody, alimony, support and distributions of assets who is a member of the law firm Cozen O'Connor and who answers legal questions on Avvo, a free social media platform that provides a health and legal Q&A forum and directory which rates and profiles 90 percent of all doctors and lawyers in the U.S.