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Social Networking Websites- A Potential Pitfall in Custody Litigation.

Social networking websites have become a way for people to stay connected, to meet new people and put personal information on the internet for everyone to see.  When most users create their profile, they are not in the middle of a custody dispute.  The user profile is a way to express one’s self.  The user profile is an outlet to share preferences in music, movies, art, and common interests.   The user profile is a means to show everyone your cool side.

Unfortunately, user profiles are also a buffet of easy pickings in custody litigation.  The user profiles often contain questionnaires with specifics about alcohol consumption, narcotic use, relationship status, spending habits, gambling occurrence, and everything else imaginable.  As such, a user profile can be very effective tool in custody litigation especially in the age of technology and electronic evidence. 

In addition to the user profile, social networking websites also allow users to post personal photographs.  Some personal photographs can only be described as unique- photographs using illegal drugs, abusing alcohol, displaying gun collections, and stripping off clothing.  When those types of photographs are posted, most users do not thing about how the photograph may be used in the future.  The photographs themselves may be innocent enough; sometimes the tag line that goes with the photograph is almost more damning.

As technology advances, social networking websites become easier to access.  The ease of access allows users to post up to the minute updates.  These updates are time and date stamped; allowing anyone who has access to the user profile to know where a user may be located and what activities the user is participating. 

Although the profile may be marked as private, a determined person can usually find a way to access the user’s page.  I have known people to create profiles and try to “friend” someone when there really is a hidden agenda.  If there is a way, someone is going to figure it out.

The lesson to be learned: watch what you post on social networking websites.  Even if you take down the user profile after custody litigation starts or mark it as private, there is reason to believe that the information has already been secured by someone.  As such, it is very possible the information posted on a social networking website may be used against you in custody litigation or divorce litigation which is relevant when the court determines spending habits and possibly hidden assets of litigants. 

The Judge in a custody case may be able to view photographs of a parent using illegal drugs. A judge may also be able to determine dividing a person’s time share that instead of spending time with the child(ren), a parent is out partying with friends.  These types of activities are not the message a parent wants to be sent to the person who may decide a physical custody arrangement of their child(ren).

The take away message is this- think before you post.  Or, to say it another way, when you post information on the internet, ask one question:  would the judge in my case approve?