Investigating the Use of social media During a Divorce in Texas

In our world today, social media use is so prevalent that it almost demands its coverage in addition to what happens in the “real world.” When it comes to knowing everything going on in our world it is no longer enough to just watch the evening news or read the newspaper. Rather, newsworthy events happen all the time on social media. Those who are online a great deal often hear about breaking news and stories faster than the rest of us who may spend little or no time at all looking at social media. 

On the one hand that is probably a good thing overall. Social media tends to be a giant time waster when it is all said and done. Think about how much time you spent on social media over the past week. If you try and go back to think about how you used social media specifically over the past week, I bet that you couldn’t tell me much of anything that you did specifically. Rather, you could probably tell me that you did something here or there but that you couldn’t tell me what you were doing exactly. That is the definition of time wasting. Scrolling with our thumb on social media has replaced channel surfing as our national time-wasting pastime.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with this necessarily- especially when done in moderation. However, we tend to let our minds wander when we are social media users. Our eyes glaze over, and our thumbs do the walking towards no destination. It is troublesome because we may be in the middle of a party or work when we take out our phones and start looking through social media. We need to be aware of how and when we use social media so that we can notice any troubling trends when it comes to how we experience social media. 

One of the main ways that we use social media is to keep in touch with friends and family. Much of the time when we are on social media it is to post photos, and status updates and generally give the outside world a window into our activities. This is a great way to stay in touch with relatives and friends who live a great distance away. We know that many times these are people that would otherwise fall out of their lives were it not for the availability of social media. However, for some people, this is not the extent to which social media is used. Some of us use social media in ways that can be harmful to our lives- specifically about a divorce case.

Divorcing means being on guard

One of the first lessons that you need to learn about divorce is that you need to be on guard for what is happening in your life during this time. The life that you had led previously has changed. Once a divorce is filed and the case gets moving the patterns and routine of your life are going to be changed. To what extent those changes occur depends upon the circumstances of your life. We know that family law cases are fact-based civil cases. This means that the facts and circumstances of your life are almost more important than the law in many regards. The Texas Family Code will play a part in your case but so will the actual events of your life that have led to the divorce being filed. A judge is charged with reviewing those circumstances and will issue orders based on their experience, the law, and the circumstances of their life.

One of the ways that your life will change after the divorce is filed is that your activities can end up playing a meaningful part in the case. It isn’t just that the events of your life before the divorce will play a significant role in the case. Rather, the events of your life before and during the divorce will serve as a backdrop for the court to issue rulings, if necessary, that will impact your family for years. You obviously can’t change the past and those events are set in stone. However, what you can change are your actions in the present and moving forward. You can understand that a divorce is as much about the perception of yourself as it is about reality. How you are viewed by your spouse and the judge will matter incredibly in a divorce. 

This means that your behavior will play a role in your divorce. Especially when you have minor children at issue in the divorce your actions speak volumes about your priorities and your ability to make good decisions for your children. It sounds silly in a way, but divorce is a competition of sorts between parents in terms of winning conservatorship rights, custody, and time with their children. Throughout your divorce, there will be an examination of your life to work with your spouse on the negotiation of custody issues. If you all cannot agree on how to do so, then the question will be left up to a judge for him or her to decide on these important subjects for your family. 

This is the backdrop that we examine the issue of social media use in divorce. For family law attorneys, social media use is something that we look at almost immediately after signing up a client for a divorce. We will log in to the various social media websites and see if anything comes up when we search for your spouse’s name. Sometimes their profile will be publicly available to view. Other times some basic investigation can result in material that can be used in the divorce. The information found online can be helpful when it comes to learning about your case and figuring out what questions need to be asked of you as a client. 

One of the steps to a divorce case that I take with clients is to ask them to tell us anything that may resemble a “skeleton” in the closet. A skeleton in the closet is anything from your past that may not look good, and you have locked it out of sight as a result. While we all have things that we are not proud of in our lives the reality is that these skeletons have a way of coming out of the closet during the divorce and making a negative impact on your case. We want to know about those skeletons in the closet before your case begins so that we can prepare for the impact of those issues.

A great example of how a skeleton in the closet can harm your case involves a client of ours from a few years ago. This gentleman hired our office to represent him in a child custody case that he was involved in. His child’s mother had removed the kids from his home and taken them with her out of state. This is a major concern for a parent, and he hired us to file his custody case and seek an emergency hearing to address the sudden removal of the kids out of state. We knew that we would need to have a hearing set up ASAP. 

On the morning of the hearing, the client and I were in the courthouse waiting for the judge to call their docket for the day. Surprisingly, we saw that the child’s mother appeared at the hearing with an attorney. I spoke to the lawyer before the hearing, and we talked about the situation from each person’s perspective. However, the conversation took a turn when the opposing lawyer sent it into his bag and took out some paperwork for us to review. 

What he took out of his bag was arrest and jail information for my client’s uncle. On the paperwork was a listed address for this uncle- and it was the same as my client’s. On top of that, the crimes that he had been arrested and convicted of involved terrible conduct related to children. You can probably see where this is headed. We have a situation where this man’s nephew was attempting to win primary custody of his kids on an emergency basis and to have them returned to Texas ASAP. However, the home where these children would be staying was also occupied by a man who has been sent to jail for crimes against children. 

When I went to my client with this information, he was sheepish but honest about his uncle. He hadn’t thought to mention it to us despite our asking each client that we work with to think hard about any issue that may be a negative impact on your case. Especially in a situation where you are needing to get into a courtroom quickly, you need to be clear with your attorney about these skeletons in the closet. Ultimately, we worked out a custody arrangement with the child’s mother who eventually returned to live in Texas full-time. This was a situation that could have ended up being much worse. It was not as if we could have erased the past, but we could have made plans with our client to have the uncle move out ASAP and to provide proof that this has happened. 

The big thing to keep in mind in a family law case is that every corner of your life is relevant to the discussion. In some types of legal cases, only certain areas of your life will be viewed as relevant. However, in a divorce case, you will have your life examined thoroughly by your attorney, the attorney of your co-parent, and the judge. Depending upon what they see your life can be impacted in significant ways. Be honest with your attorney and he or she can help you accentuate the positive areas of your life while preparing you to deal with those areas of your life that are less than desirable. 

Social media use in divorce cases

If you are someone who uses social media with frequency, then you should expect that social media will play a part in your divorce. Your personal life is on display for everyone to see on social media and your divorce. It pays for you to start thinking about your use of social media critically as you plan for a divorce. If your divorce has not started yet take the time to sit down and look through social media posts, status updates, photos, and anything else that you can do on social media that I am leaving out. There is nothing wrong with deleting photos or anything else you would like to do before your divorce begins. Keep in mind that once your divorce begins you may not be able to do that since it could involve deleting potential evidence in your case. Always talk to your attorney before deleting anything off social media once your divorce has started. 

Next, you should consider your options when it comes to social media use during the divorce itself. For some of you reading this blog post going on social media is not much different than eating or drinking water. It is essential to your daily routine. With that in mind, you may need to re-think your routine to prepare for a divorce. What you post on social media can be used against you in a divorce. What you post on social media is rarely something that can be used as an advantage for you. What does that tell you about social media use and divorce?

You will make your own decisions for yourself when it comes to social media use during your divorce but ultimately the best bet you can make may be to stop using social media until your divorce is over. What do you have to gain from using social media and what do you have to lose? This is a simple question that you can ask yourself before beginning your divorce and one that if more people asked themselves that question would probably find themselves in a different position in the divorce. 

When you use social media in your divorce you need to be careful. Think about what you post about where you are, your experiences in the case, and the things you are doing in response to different stimuli in your life. One of the major concerns that attorneys have with their clients during a divorce is the client writing negative things about the court, judge, opposing attorney, or their spouse on social media. This can be used as evidence against you in the divorce. Spouses have been fined by courts, held in contempt, and had other penalties assessed against them by judges for saying negative things online about judges.

Security for social media and other online activities

You need to secure your online information during a divorce just like you need to do so at other times, as well. Keep in mind that strange things can happen during a divorce. Your spouse may choose to do things that seem out of character and generally strange for them. This means that you need to be vigilant about your use of the home computer and your use of email and other online resources. The first thing that you can do to secure your information is to change your passwords whenever possible. If you have an email address that your spouse has access to this is an especially important one. You can change your passwords even if you cannot get access to your home computer because you have moved out. 

Think through all the different places you go online: your email, your social media, retirement savings, etc. If it is a service that you use personally then you need to update the password. Anything that you and your spouse access together is not something that you can update but then again it is unlikely that anything on a mutually accessed website will be of interest to your spouse or their attorney. Simply sit down in a quiet spot and go through all the access points to your information online. Any passwords that you can change or secure would be for the best. 

We know that a divorce will not be easy for you and your family. Nobody completes a divorce and then says to themselves how fun that was. However, you can take the time now to think through parts of your divorce that could provide you with problems down the road. The internet is a huge source of information and evidence on divorces these days. Social media, depending upon your usage of the various platforms, could be a place where you obtain a great deal of information regarding your spouse and vice versa. Be wise with your use of the various platforms during the divorce and secure as much information about yourself as you can. 

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case. 

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