News & Media

Family Law, Fall 2009
October 15, 2009

SOCIAL NETWORKING AND DIVORCE-RELATED PITFALLS

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Linkedin, personal blogs; the list goes on and on. Social networking has proven to be a great and useful means of communication in today’s digital age. Not only do these, and numerous other, social networking tools provide an opportunity to connect or reconnect with friends’ and family members, but they also present a great medium to inform loved ones about our own adventures and momentous events. However, we occasionally find ourselves divulging too much, and at the most inopportune of times. Be it for therapeutic, ill-intended, or seemingly nebulous reasons, people are frequently walking countless followers through their own marital discord and divorces. Social networking, at its essence, allows for brutally honest introspection, as if having a heart-to-heart conversation with a close friend over a cup of coffee, but at the expense of posting thoughts and ideas for all the world to read. Needless to say, attorneys are using these tools as evidentiary goldmines during divorce proceedings.

Before deciding whether to post a questionable picture, or list the details of a wild night out with friends, pause for a moment of reflection. There is no filter of protection with Facebook, Twitter, or personal blogs. The very minute you hit “post” or “submit,” these words are visible for all to see. Some argue that the safest bet, when going through a divorce or similar type of proceeding, is to completely refrain from using these outlets at all. Prior to the “Web 2.0” movement, it was much easier to disguise an impropriety, make a disparaging comment about your spouse, or hold a vent session with a close group of friends. Now, it appears that many are running to their favorite social networking site to connect with their friends, without realizing that after posting a comment or picture on one of these websites, they leave a permanent digital footprint of these activities.

As part of their due diligence in working on a divorce, attorneys are now scouring social networking websites searching for ways to bolster their case. One spouse may ardently claim that they never drink, but the opposing attorney will pour through that individual’s online profile looking for conflicting evidence showing differently; either a photograph of that spouse hoisting an alcoholic beverage at a local watering hole, or that spouse’s friends leaving comments on the spouse’s website discussing the great time they had at the bar/club/house party. As another example, one spouse may insist that they are unable to find work, but their resume is posted on Linkedin or another career-oriented social networking site. Additionally, abuse of community assets can be readily exhibited by posting images of recently purchased “big ticket items.” Thus, it is probably ill advised to post photographs of a brand new big screen television or images from a week-long Caribbean getaway during a divorce proceeding.

Furthermore, throughout a divorce, a spouse’s social network contacts can potentially cause a headache for that particular spouse. One of these contacts might make a post on Twitter about that spouse making the aforementioned big purchase. The court might regard that as misuse of marital assets. Another issue might be a friend of a spouse posting on Facebook a picture of that spouse in a compromising situation. This could ultimately harm the spouse’s credibility if that spouse is trying to paint an image of a wholesome and nurturing nature.

The two largest battles in divorce cases remain finances and custody. Attorneys will seek any leverage available to help their client, and information on Facebook, Twitter, and personal blogs are like billboards of intimate details willingly broadcast by the opposing party. Therefore, it is imperative that you thoroughly review your online presence — and your loved ones’ — for anything that could be used against you by your spouse’s attorney.

In addition to limiting the information a party provides online, it is also smart increase security to prevent their spouse from tapping in. Any party going through a divorce should change their passwords to avert a spouse from altering or adding information to the social network sites in an attempt to cast that party in a harmful light. There are instances of a party pulling up their Facebook page to find that they are already listed as “single” and “looking to date.” The conniving spouse will of course deny making the changes and then try to hold it against the opposing party in court.

While Facebook, Twitter, and blogs are terrific tools to keep in touch with loved ones, they should be used with extreme caution during a divorce. Navigating through a divorce can be perilous enough without having to worry about sabotaging your own efforts through innocuous social networking. Hiring an attorney can help you to navigate through these issues and other potential pitfalls, in addition to assisting you with this difficult, stressful process.

ECONOMIC CONTRIBUTION IS DEAD, LONG LIVE REIMBURSEMENT

Previously, claims for economic contribution were made in a divorce case by one spouse requesting the other spouse to pay back money for certain outlays made for the benefit the spouse’s separate property or the marital estate’s community property. This involved a confusing and meandering formula. The slimmed down and easier to understand claim for reimbursement has taken the place of economic contribution, which the Texas Legislature has eliminated.

Reimbursement claims can take a number of forms. For one example, the husband owns rental property prior to the marriage. Following the marriage, the wife uses her own separate money to make improvements to this rental property. Upon divorce, the wife can request that the husband reimburse her for the funds she used to improve his property. Subsequently, the husband can then assert that the wife was given a benefit through her use and enjoyment of the property, thus the husband will request that the court grant an offset to her request for reimbursement. Ultimately, it will be up to the court to make the decision as to whether the reimbursement or offset claims will be granted.