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Years ago when lawyers were presented with divorce cases they had to look hard to find the evidence they needed to win a case. In many instances, attorneys may have hired private investigators and/or tapped into other sources to use as a means to find evidence on their clients' spouses.

Today the field has changed. Thanks to the advantages and conveniences technology offers, attorneys have a much easier time finding information and often do not even have to look very far. All it takes is plugging in a few keywords into a search engine or moseying into a popular social network such as Facebook and an attorney may find all the information he or she needs to support a client's case.

Facebook screen shotCredit: Leigh Goessl

Facebook and Divorce Cases

In 2010 the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers  conducted a survey and results showed 81 percent of the top divorce attorneys in the United States claimed to have seen significant increases in the number of divorce cases using social networks to find information. 1 Facebook is, by far, the primary source used to discover those juicy tidbits lawyers like to use to help their clients' cases; this social network is cited as being used 66 percent of the time overall all social networking sites.

Social networking continues to remain on the rise and shows no signs of slowing as a cultural trend. In 2015 Facebook has over a billion members with new members signing up daily. As divorce rates remain at a higher rate than it had been in earlier generations, chances are many of the people in the midst of divorce are also Facebook members. Lawyers have noticed.

Sharing Information on Social Networks

There are a number of people who are pretty careless about what kinds of information or comments they will post online; often not giving what they've posted a second thought. At any given time you can search Google News (as an example) and find people have lost jobs or gotten themselves in other hot water due to posts on Facebook.

Facebook gives the "feel" of being a closed network due to the high level of personalization and ways to directly connect and stay in contact with friends and family. Almost like a small neighborhood.

As a result, individuals may comment about their estranged spouse, interact with affair partners, brag about purchases, post illicit or inappropriate photos or share various other pieces of information that could be used against them in divorce court either for financial payments or child custody. Or friends (and friends of friends) could post a comment or image that could open up all kinds of evidence being discovered.   

Social networks, like most other places on the Web, are pretty public places. Attorneys can frequently find information they need to win a case, just on Facebook alone. In 2015, checking Facebook and other social network accounts are pretty routine in a divorce case.

Got Caught Posting

In 2010, CNN published an article where Ken Altshuler, a divorce attorney in Maine, described a situation where a female, in her 30s, hired him for her divorce. 3 She claimed her alcoholic husband was drinking again, but he had denied this allegation. It came down to a situation of "he said/she said," until photos surfaced on Facebook showing the husband at a recent party drinking beer. The wife won her case.

[Related reading: Things You Should Never Reveal on Facebook ]

Many attorneys have used Facebook and other networks to identify affair partners and then able to gain proof a spouse is cheating. Friend lists can be scrutinized, bragging Facebook walls read and photos monitored. Friend lists could be combed over to see if any incriminating connections have been made. Consider a support case in front of a judge where one person claims to have no money for child support or alimony and then posts an image of his or her latest big purchase to show off to online connections.

There are lots of tell-tale signs attorneys can keep an eye on until they hit pay dirt, and a lot of the time it does not take long to find. Defendants are likely to find they have a hard time denying comments they've made or disputing photos they are in when the content is associated with their personal accounts.

Facebook screenshot
Credit: Danny Sullivan via Flickr/CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Even when privacy controls are used, not everyone uses them correctly, or has figured out how to navigate Facebook's convoluted privacy menus. Facebook has amassed a gold mine of information, and lawyers have been tapping into this resource to get what they need to win.

And it's not just Facebook, in Italy evidence is being obtained through WhatsApp. 5

Serving Divorce Papers

In April 2015 a New York City judge ruled a woman could serve her estranged spouse via a private Facebook message. This appears to be a first.

The couple had been apart six years and the woman had no other way to reach her husband. This ruling is significant because it changes the dynamics of divorce cases. It is a means if all other methods of contact fail and it helps a spouse seeking a divorce a cost-effective way to find his or her estranged spouse without spending thousands of dollars. It is important to keep in mind though, not all states in the U.S. allow the same methods for serving divorce papers (conventional or electronic), but this recent ruling could be a step towards an eventual overhaul. There are a lot of details that would need to be sorted out (i.e. deleted message, unread message, deleted account, etc.), but technology clearly changes the way people live and communicate and this seems a natural step in some ways.

Facebook often eliminates the need for expensive investigators to find evidence. All it often takes is a few strokes of the keyboard and a click of the mouse and divorce attorneys can potentially find all they need to win a divorce, custody or support case.


Other topics you may be interested in:

Can Couples Stay Friends After Divorce?

What Kids Need to Know About Divorce