Just a few years ago, newspaper headlines were talking about how “virtual worlds” such as Second Life were being cited in divorce actions. Those articles have gone away, but new ones have arrived with different social sites and surprising statisics.
More than one in three divorce filings last year contained the word Facebook, according to a U.K. survey by Divorce Online, a legal services firm. And more than 4 out of 5 U.S. divorce attorneys say they’ve seen a rise in the number of cases using social networking, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
Those are pretty remarkable numbers. Lawyers in contested divorce cases are increasingly requesting the courts to order divorcing couples to hand over their social media passwords. Judges are approving those requests. Lawyers then carefully research a partner’s postings and conversations. One lawyer, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, commented, “People put an enormous amount of incriminating stuff out there voluntarily.”
What lawyers look for are patterns of behavior recorded (for example) on Facebook relating to parenting skills, excessive partying, or even disparaging remarks about a spouse. What many have found is one or another unhappy spouse reconnecting with an old flame, or becoming involved in an extramarital affair via their social connections. Once such discoveries are made, something as “innocent” as a mention of a check-in at a specific bar or restaurant may help connect the dots in court.
While Facebook gets the most press coverage, lawyers say that all social media venues are useful resources in proving their client’s case in a divorce action. As one lawyer commented, “it is not the fault of the social media site that it is being dragged through divorce court; it is the people who use it.”
Employers are Involved
Divorce lawyers are not alone in researching social media activity. There have been a lot of legal actions recently indicating that employers want to use social media to screen potential employees. Some are going so far as to ask job candidates to hand over their social media passwords during the interview process.
There have not been sufficient legal challenges to employers asking for social media passwords for there to be a definitive ruling on the legality of such requests. In our view these requests probably invade privacy to an unacceptable degree. But for now, the risk remains that you could miss out on a dream job because of something you did or said on social media.