Tom returned from a contentious mediation session with his soon to be ex-wife Marta regarding custody of their two boys. Angry and frustrated, Tom vented to his “friends” on Facebook and tweeted negative comments about Marta. A week later he posted pictures of his new girlfriend and his boys despite an agreement with Marta that they would not post pictures of their children on social media. Mediation broke down, in large part because Marta no longer trusted Tom to keep his word. Through mutual friends and discovery, Marta was able to obtain Tom’s social media postings and used them as evidence during their trial.
It may seem like common sense, but if you are thinking about divorce, going through a divorce, or are divorced with minor children, you need to think twice before posting or tweeting on social media. Hess Family Law recommends suspending all use of any social media during the divorce process.
If you are not willing to suspend your social media usage, then at least take precautions when using social media by checking your privacy settings and limiting the people you don’t know from viewing your posts.
You should also limit what you post. If you bad mouth your spouse not only does it make it more difficult to reach an amicable agreement but it makes it more difficult to co-parent and you might lose the ability to share joint custody. One way to determine if a post or tweet should be sent is whether or not you would want your children to see it. If the answer is no, don’t post or tweet it.
Arguing your case on social media will not win your case and could damage it. While your post that highlights why you should have custody and why your spouse should not may garner you sympathy from your friends, it may also backfire if brought to your spouse’s or the court’s attention.
If your case is litigated, the Judge will look at objective and subjective factors when making a determination. Negative comments made on social media may not weigh in your favor because they may show poor judgment and poor decision making abilities, two qualities that are important for parenting and co-parenting. You may also appear as a bully, which will not weigh in your favor.
Ask yourself if your spouse could misinterpret a post. While it may seem harmless to you, will they feel attacked or find a way to use it against you? Also, resist the urge to check in or post every time you go out. Again, your spouse can use this as evidence against you.
If you have an agreement to not post pictures of your children on social media without your spouse’s consent, don’t do it. Violating the terms of an agreement, even if it seems minor to you, could have serious consequences. If your spouse or the court have evidence that you don’t follow court orders, or that you don’t keep your word, then your spouse may be awarded more of the responsibility because you are not reliable or trustworthy, or credible.
If you are concerned that your spouse may use your social media postings against you, the best thing you can do is take a break from social media while your divorce is pending. If this is not possible, then heed the advice above to minimize any negative impact your social media posts or tweets may have on the outcome of your case.
Texting is a great way to stay in touch with your spouse, ex-spouse and/or your kids, especially if you are separated or divorced. In some cases, parties that are separated or divorced have difficulty communicating. Anger, stress, and frustration can cause parties to dread phone or face-to-face communication. By sending short text messages, parties can communicate efficiently without having to engage in lengthy conversations. However, you should be mindful that unlike phone conversations, there is a record of your text message conversations and just like emails; text messages can end up in the courtroom during your divorce or custody dispute.
How common is this? According to a survey by the American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers® (AAML), 94% of the respondents cited an overall rise in the use of text messages as evidence during a trial. In fact, text messages were the most common forms of evidence taken from smart phones holding the top spot at 62%, e-mails follow at 23%, phone numbers and call histories at 13%, with GPS and Internet search histories each sharing 1%. Why the increase in text messages as evidence in divorce and/or custody cases? Unlike phone conversations, text messages are a written record of a dialogue between spouses, ex-spouses or children. They can be used to highlight problems such as parenting issues, irresponsible behavior, and even contradict sworn testimony.
If text messages may end up in Court, what are your options? As I discussed in Technology Makes Communication Easier, if you cannot verbally communicate, it is better to use email and/or text messaging then to not communicate at all. But, never send an email or text message in the heat of an argument. And, never send an email or text message that you would not want a Judge to read. While technology has its drawbacks, if used properly, it can make managing two households a lot easier.
Cara and Sam share custody of their two children, Molly, 12 and Alex, 7. Lately, Cara and Sam cannot agree on anything. Conversations always end with harsh words, many times in front of the children. Cara and Sam realize there has to be a better way to exchange information but they are not sure where to begin.
Communication between separated or divorced parents can be difficult, even if the split was amicable, and for those whose break-up was acrimonious, communicating can be impossible. However, despite how much you may never want to speak to your spouse or ex-spouse again, if you have children, communication is inevitable.
Pamela Paul, author of the New York Times article, Kramer.com vs. Kramer.com, suggests that handling communication through email and text messages helps reduce emotional exchanges between parents. It is “joint custody-at a distance”. Parents who are having trouble communicating can use email to schedule pick-ups, drop offs, and daycare when children are sick. If a parent is running late, a quick text message can alert the other parent without arguments or harsh words.
While email may solve communication problems in some cases it can also make them worse. Email can be used as a weapon against the other parent. It is easy for an angry spouse or ex-spouse to use email to attack and criticize which can result in a never ending string of emails. One solution is to use a “form” email which only includes basic details such as where and when for visitation. Adding more information opens the door for continuous dialogue.
Divorced or separated parents may also find that they are receiving many email messages a day. If this happens, you can set up a system where you respond to all non-emergency emails in one email response on a set day of the week each and every week. Let the other parent know that this is how you will be handling non-emergency email so they do not think you are ignoring them or wonder if you received the email.
Another tool Cara and Sam can use to keep organized is an online shared calendar, such as Google calendar. Cara and Sam can add each of the children’s activities, school events, birthday parties, etc. so both parents have access to the information without having to verbally communicate. Cara and Sam can also allow their pre-teen Molly to access the schedule so she can confirm whose house she will be at on any given date.
As many divorced or separated parents know, technology is not without its faults. Email and text messages can often be misinterpreted and many times humor, irony, or sarcasm can get lost. Emails can be ignored just like phone messages. When discussions, negotiations, and/or arguments are done via email or text messaging, they create a permanent record that could be used in future litigation. So, what is a parent to do? If you cannot verbally communicate, it is better to use email and text messaging then to not communicate at all. Never send an email or text message in the heat of an argument. Write the message but do not send it until you have had a chance to cool off. Then, reread the message and ask yourself if it is something you would want a judge to read. If so, go ahead and send the message. If not, rewrite your response before pressing send. While technology has its draw backs, if used properly, it can make managing children in two households a lot easier.