Self-Defeating Tweeting (and other social media pitfalls)

It’s too bad there isn’t some Miranda-type warning before posting on social media, something along the lines of: what you post online can and will be used against you in a (family) court of law. It seems elementary but it bears repeating: be careful what you post—whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or even in text messages and emails. Messages and postings frequently end up being used in court filings and even during trials.

I have been involved in many cases where social media postings contribute to the undoing of a client’s case or the opposing party’s case. For example, if a parent claims he or she cannot afford to pay child support but posts on social media outlets about his or her vacations, meals out, and extravagant expenditures, it will undermine that person’s credibility. Incriminating online postings in cohabitation cases by an alimony recipient are also common social media pitfalls. If the alimony recipient claims he or she is not, for example, in a relationship recognized in the couple’s social and family circle (one of the factors for a finding of cohabitation, see N.J.S.A.  2A:34-23), but Facebook is littered with photos of family holiday celebrations, trips, and birthdays, with the new significant other, this information can and will be used against the alimony recipient in court and potentially hurt his or her case.

Another thing to keep in mind is whatever you text or email can end up in a court filing. Does it matter, legally, that ex-spouses/partners trade barbs via text message? Probably not. But, it does not paint the acrimonious and hostile party in a good light for the Court, and Judges are human, too. A party with reasonable positions and a credible and calm demeanor can be undermined by the other party introducing ugly and expletive-filled text messages.

Many clients ask “can he/she ACTUALLY use this stuff against me?” The answer is—absolutely. So, be careful.