Divorce in the Age of Facebook

According to Facebook there are over 900,000,000 active users subscribed to the site, with numbers like that, odds are that your spouse/partner is using the site, and if they are it’s a great discovery tool in the litigation process.

One of the first things I do when I meet with a new client is ask them if they have a Facebook account and if they know the other party’s Facebook user name. The next thing I do is tell my client to either stop posting on their account, or in the very least, censor their posts. Notice, however, that I didn’t say delete your page or a particular post. Deleting anything on Facebook, while in the process of litigation, could be seen as destruction of evidence. In Massachusetts the technical term is spoliation of evidence, and if this is done, it may result in sanctions for the lawyer and the client, which usually translates into a monetary fine as well as other discovery sanctions.

As a family law practitioner I delight in finding that most people do not realize they are not taking advantage of the privacy settings and leave their account open to view by the public. This allows me to find all sorts of helpful information. In a recent case I was defending a client’s ex-wife was seeking modification of a child support order. The ex-wife claimed she needed an increase in child support because her hours had been cut at work and her income had been greatly reduced. However, when I looked on her Facebook page there were all kinds of “check-ins” at a particular restaurant, which was often accompanied by a status update about her tending bar. That income was of course not reported on her financial statement, which was signed under the pains and penalties of perjury and submitted to the court. The case settled soon after my discovery.