3 aspects of a divorce that social media evidence can affect
During divorce, social media activity can act as a form of evidence that influences alimony awards, property division and child custody arrangements.
To many people in Harrisburg, social networking provides a healthy way to stay in touch with others, meet new people and share information. Unfortunately for people going through divorces, though, that information has become a common source of evidence in modern divorce proceedings. According to Forbes, even in 2012, over four-fifths of members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers had started seeing more clients using evidence from social media websites.
Today, social media evidence, which may range from private messages to publicly shared photographs, is often accepted as admissible in divorce court. As a number of spouses have learned firsthand, this evidence can have huge impacts, especially on the following three aspects of a divorce settlement.
1. Property division
Forbes explains that social media evidence can affect property division by revealing that a spouse is hiding assets during divorce. Pennsylvania law requires that all marital property, or property other than gifts and inheritances that a couple obtained while married, be divided equitably. Among other factors, a judge considers each spouse's separate assets when identifying an equitable arrangement. Therefore, the concealment of either marital or separate property can impede an appropriate division of assets.
In some cases, social media may provide direct evidence of asset concealment. For instance, private messages or photographs may show that a spouse has transferred assets, provided inaccurate financial information or misrepresented personal income. In other cases, suspicious social media activity may provide reason for a more rigorous investigation of a spouse's finances and living circumstances.
2. Spousal support
Similarly, social media evidence may influence the awarding of spousal support. Family law judges in Pennsylvania decide whether to order alimony on the basis of several factors, including each spouse's income, earning power, assets and liabilities. Online activity may provide evidence that a spouse has misrepresented his or her ability to pay alimony or need for financial support. For example, references to recent vacations, upcoming promotions or new purchases may reveal a spouse's true financial standing.
3. Child custody
The Huffington Post notes that social media activity may also be used to support the assertion that a parent is not fit to have legal custody or primary physical custody. In Pennsylvania, family law courts can assess all of the following factors when determining whether a parent should receive custody:
• Availability to provide care for the child
• Ability to maintain a stable, supportive relationship with the child
• Willingness to work cooperatively with the other parent
• Any history of drug or alcohol abuse
• Any established pattern of turning the child against the other parent
Social media activity may shed light on many of these decisive facts. For instance, social media posts that document irresponsible behaviors, such as drug use, may suggest that a parent cannot provide a nurturing environment. Posts that express negativity toward the other parent may create the impression that a person will act uncooperatively or alienate the child from the other parent. Even if these impressions are inaccurate, they may have damaging effects on a parent's chances of receiving custody.
People who are preparing for divorces in Pennsylvania should appreciate the serious toll that digital evidence and social media missteps can take. Spouses with questions or concerns may benefit from consulting with a family law attorney to better understand how social media use and other everyday activities may affect their eventual divorce settlements.