Anyone who has been through a custody case will tell you that the notion that people will always speak only the truth is sadly not always the case.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that people will tell outright lies – although yes, of course, that definitely happens. But stretching the truth can come in the form of withholding information, illegitimately denying knowledge or not volunteering information for the fear it may harm a case.
The undoing of much of this, however, comes in the form of social media. The consequence of living in an age where so many people choose to document every moment of their lives is that there’s a record. And not just of what people do, either – what they spend money on, what they think, where they go, how they feel. Prolific users can share their every move and every thought. This can often leave anyone who is being less than truthful in court in a tricky position.
Text messages, tweets and status updates are used in courts across the world every single day now. Just recently the BBC reported that a court in Taiwan granted a woman the divorce she was seeking after the blue ticks featured in Asian messaging app Line were accepted as evidence that her husband had been receiving and not responding to her messages. Indeed, one ‘blue ticking’ incident occurred after the wife had been injured and admitted to hospital. The husband did not then enquire about her condition.
This was ultimately sufficient proof, the court ruled, that their marriage was broken beyond repair.
One of the first pieces of advice I got from my lawyer was to record everything. Text messages, WhatsApp chats, written records of phone conversations – everything. Every swear word and rude name spat out in anger and every threat was, despite being hugely unpleasant, a vital record of behaviour and character.
It was also an excellent double check for me, as knowing I was likely being documented in the same detail is added motivation to make sure I was acting in my child’s best interests.
Anyone who has had any legal advice should have the common sense to at least keep their direct interactions with the ex-partner calm and considered, but often this same advice will not be heeded on social media. At times where emotions are running high, it’s all too easy to vent that online. Even perfectly calm posts about the general day-to-day can reveal revealing details that could be detrimental to your case.
For instance, posts about luxuries or expenditure will not help a person who is trying to increase payments received due to alleged hardship, or indeed someone who is trying to avoid making payments. Pictures of nights out on the town and drunken shenanigans may also cast doubts on a character, especially if they occur at a time when a child is in their care.
More commonly, threats of reprimands or revenge will bring into question the motivations of someone arguing that they’re acting in a child’s best interests. Even something as innocuous as saying you’re too tired to cook and are buying a take-out could be presented as evidence of neglect, as could pictures of you smoking or drinking, even if you’re without your kids. Similarly, talk of dating could be used in arguments about you exposing your kids to strangers or persons of uncertain suitability.
It should go without saying that confessing to anything illegal online is the absolute strongest of no-nos. You might want to think twice about retweeting that extremist political group, calling for the legalisation of drugs or persecuting a female celebrity for her choice of dress. Your social media paints a picture of you, and it’s very hard for a bad person over time to present anything other than a bad picture. Don’t put much stock in your privacy settings, either. Even a Facebook profile with strict settings or a locked Twitter account might be viewed by a long-forgotten friend who could share that information with your ex.
Posts about the legal process itself, and especially the conduct of the court, are equally as dangerous. Just don’t do it. Your friends and followers will likely still survive to see another day even if they miss out on a few details about your every conscious thought.
If you do post something angrily online, think twice about deleting it, too. In some circumstances this can be interpreted as the deliberate destruction of evidence, so if there’s any chance your message has already been seen, you’re possibly best off letting it live and dealing with the consequences.
Records of conversations that aren’t heated or unpleasant can potentially be of benefit, too. For instance, if your ex-partner argues in court that certain recommendations are not feasible because you cannot talk calmly and work together, then this argument is weakened if there is documented evidence of exactly that.
None of this should be interpreted as a reason to stay off social media altogether, although of course ultimately that is the safest approach. No number of likes or retweets are worth jeopardising your time with your kids.
Some lawyers will advise social media abstinence, but really as long as you don’t act in the heat of the moment and take the necessary time to think thoughts through before sharing them online, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to keep using social media. Indeed, a long history of good social media use that reflects well on your character may actually be of benefit, although perhaps do get some second opinions on whether you’re coming across in the way in which you believe.
This article is by Ben Parfitt, a former client of BLB Solicitors. He writes from personal experience. For legal advice on all issues to do with divorce or separation, please contact the family team at BLB Solicitors.
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Image (cropped) by r.g-s under a creative commons licence