June 13, 2014

Dear Frannie Friday--Social Media, Electronic Communication and Divorce

Though I am not back to work yet in all the family law goodness that awaits me, I have been wanting to tackle this issue for some time on Dear Frannie Fridays--what are some good practices for social media and electronic communication when you are going through a divorce?  For starters, we are going to assume that this is a contested or higher conflict cases, but the general ideas could work in any divorce.  Also, this is not to be construed as legal advice.  I am just giving you my tips from a general legal and personal standpoint.

Social Media 

One thing to keep in mind with social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Instagram and the like) is that it gives a lot more information about you than you may realize.  Of course, the most obvious tip here is--privatize.  Make sure that all of your settings are such that very few, selected people can see what you post, like, follow and what have you.  However, this does not make you free from the possibility of your soon-to-be ex getting access to you page(s), especially if you have mutual friends.  It is not a good idea to ever post photos or information about yourself that could be compromising.  For example, if you are arguing parenting time in your case and your Facebook has 47 photos of you out in bars, probably not going to bode well for you.  If you are arguing finances but you just Tweeted about your recently booked trip to Europe, not a good idea.  If it is your weekend to have the kids and you Instagram a photo of your Bloody Mary poolside--might want to think twice. 

It is arguable (and probably differs from state to state) as to whether this information could be admissible in an actual Court hearing as it might constitute as hearsay.  However, it is surely available for some discovery requests, depositions and can be shown to various Arbitrators, Child and Family Investigators and the like.

Bottom line is to use extreme caution to what you post on social media.  This is a treasure trove into clues about how you spend your time, who you spend your time with, your values, your interests, your financial status and habits and your personal information like where you work.  I have personally used social media as a detective agent many times.

2.  Email Etiquette

I was awarded a very valuable piece of advice several years back--when you communicate with your ex or soon-to-be ex through a written word (text, email, etc.), always act as if you were writing to your boss.  When you are talking about two of the most emotionally tied issues in a person's life--their kids and money--it can very easily turn emotional.  This can lead to lots of back and forth emails and texts that not only skew far off topic from the original mission, but also cause unnecessary stress to both parties or parents.  Remember that every single text and email that you send out is able to be brought into Court as evidence.  If you would be embarrassed for a Judge to read what you are about to send out, you shouldn't send it out.  Keep it simple, stick with the goal of the email/text, do not use profanities, do not bring up the past, use correct grammar (i.e. no ALL CAPS or excessive exclamation points) and be cordial.  Even if you are disagreeing on an issue, make your point in the same way that you would with a superior at work.

Something else that has worked very well in the past, I've seen, is to get a partner.  What I mean is, have a level-headed friend or family member edit or at least read over the email or text BEFORE you send it out.  We do this for clients sometimes to avoid conflict.  Another angle for this person could be, as I call them, a "venting machine".  What I mean by this is, if you have to write that nasty email or text and you just NEED to get something off of your chest, write the email or text AS IF you were sending them to your ex, but instead, send it to the friend or family member.  It helps to be able to voice your opinion without setting yourself up for failure and, possibly, punishment later on.

3.  Keep Records

 While we are on the subject of emails, I strongly recommend them.  If there are problems that can be worked out verbally, that's great.  But I always find that it is best to keep a paper trail.  There are some parties that are only allowed to communicate through email and some that are just advised to do so.  Either way, sending an email instead of talking on the phone or in person causes each party to really think about what they say.  They are more likely to edit their responses before they send them and they are more likely to be cordial if they know that what they say will, in essence, be immortalized.  This also helps to clear up any future confusions about agreements or what was said.  If there is an issue down the road that needs to be brought up to a Court or similar professional, it is easier to pull out emails or texts than to play the he said/she said game.

These may seem pretty straightforward, but anyone who has been through a contested divorce or separation knows that things can go badly in an instant and emotions are high.  Divorce is the second most stressful time in a person's life next to death.  It's bound to be difficult at times and in these times of technology being used as a main source of communication, it can get a little hairy.  If you are mindful of what you put out, you will be much better off.

Do you have a question or suggestion for Dear Frannie Fridays?  Email me at franniepantz@hotmail.com

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