Being Separation-Savvy Online
When the very first internet message was sent 50 years ago, the effect it would have on divorces in the future was unlikely to have been foreseen. Fast forward and you don't need to look too far to find a separation that resulted from a straying partner being found out through emails, text messages, social media posts or internet history searches. So common is internet communication in the stories family lawyers hear, it is hard to believe the first ever internet message was “login”, not “what are you wearing?”.
Not only can your style of emailing cost you but, increasingly, emails, text messages and social media posts need to be carefully considered when working through a separation. While your online social network can be a source of great information and support, it can also bite you if not managed well. So, being savvy and smart as you move through your separation or divorce, what should you bear in mind when it comes to the online world?
Just how do you make that “relationship status update”? No longer is the carefully crafted, public ‘separation statement’ the sole domain of celebrities. I’ve worked with several couples who have carefully worked out how they announced their separation to the online world. This avoids one party being caught by surprise when they start receiving a barrage of comments and texts after their ex announces to the world his or her slant on their separation story or simply changes his or her “relationship status”.
Getting on the same page about how and when you will tell your online community that you are separating allows you both to control your privacy, gives you an opportunity to first tell close family and friends, allows you to prepare (emotionally and practically) for the inevitable comments and messages in response and sets a tone for your separation moving forward.
To remain friends or not? Similarly, some couples I’ve worked with have reached understandings about their future online relationship – to remain online “friends” or not? Again, this has the advantage of controlling how your present the new relationship you share (or don't) with one another to your online community, allows you to avoid hurt feelings and the fallout of these and to be mindful of just who will be reading your online posts.
What do you want your ex to post? Do you need to reach agreements with your ex about what images and information you will each post on your social media accounts? This can be particularly important when it comes to the issue of images of your children being shared online. This may be something to be discussed and included in your parenting agreement.
You can run but you cannot hide! Gone are the days where you may have been able to delay Court proceedings by avoiding having them served on you personally. Social Media and the internet is regularly used to track down contact details and information about a person who is proving difficult to serve with proceedings. There are also cases where the Court has directed a party may be served through their Facebook or social media account.
Don’t vent and type! That angry text or email you just sent may well end up attached to an affidavit for the Family Court. Texts and emails with your ex partner are the next best thing to inviting a Judge to have a front row seat to your disagreement.
The only way to avoid this is to think carefully each time you text, email or message your ex online. Giving a BIFF response is a great start to avoiding inflammatory correspondence that doesn't allow a Judge to see your best self. Is written communication the best approach or is the discussion better to be had in person at a pre-arranged meeting? Rather than just hitting “reply” to an email, start a fresh email and enter the email address last (to avoid any accidental “sends”). Take your time – draft your text or email then come back to it later and imagine how a Judge or respected family member or friend may view what you’ve drafted and the tone of it. Hit “send” only when you are sure the tone and message are right.
If you are tempted to have an angry vent about your ex partner on Facebook, think again. It could well end up attached to an affidavit or even be the subject of a defamation claim. There have also been cases where the Court has taken unkindly to a party for their online comments about their ex. As the saying goes, if you can’t say anything nice…
Change your passwords – these days, we seem to have a password for everything. Although these are supposed to be private to you, chances are you may have shared these with your ex when you were together or your passwords may be easily guessed by your ex. Change your passwords for all email and social media accounts you have and if you only have a joint email account, set up your own personal account for your legal and personal correspondence.
Think carefully about what accounts (phone, power, credit card, bank) you want your ex partner to still have access to and change the passwords to those that fall outside this.
Nothing is private – It is hard to maintain you can’t afford your reasonable expenses when your ex has seen your photos on Facebook of your recent shopping spree. Likewise, maintaining a message of sobriety and clean living isn’t difficult when your social media account is littered with the insights you had last night after a few too many Savs.
It is easy to assume that only those you’ve accepted as friends or contacts on your social media accounts can see your posts and photos and that, because your ex is no longer in that category, they won’t learn what you are posting. It is all too easy to forget to alter your settings to restrict who can see a post you have made (particularly if you are posting under the influence!). Even if you do set up your posts and photos so they are only seen by your friends, it is all too easy to lose your privacy if a friend shares your post. Ditto for photos your friends post of you.
The pocket dial – We’ve all done it. Left your phone unlocked and accidentally dialled a number, unaware the person called is now listening to you belt out a song while driving home. Now imagine if the pocket dial is to your ex who then listens to a conversation you’d rather they hadn’t heard. Believe me, its happened. Lock your phone.
What about the Online accounts? When couples divide up their assets, they often overlook the online repositories they have for their music, books, games and movie collections. Often these have had considerable money spent on them and they can also hold significant emotional value for one or both parties. Splitting up the music collection just got a whole lot more complex, especially when some providers have rules against splitting or copying accounts. If you have significant collections online, be sure to raise these in your property division negotiations early so they don't get overlooked.
Very few of us manage to live our lives untouched by technology and social media but some careful thinking before acting (or texting or posting…) can mean you avoid the risk of having your next status update read: Eek! My Facebook post just ended up in Family Court!
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