The influence of social media on divorce proceedings

In the last decade, there has been a significant increase in the use of social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn have all become a significant part of how people interact. While social media is advantageous in most ways, it also has some disadvantages especially in family law matters.

According to some studies, one in seven spouses felt strongly enough about their spouse’s postings on Facebook that they considered divorce, some utilized social media platforms to uncover infidelity and approximately one in five say spouses have regular arguments due to the way their spouse utilizes social media.

The impact of social media is also often felt after the decision has been taken to divorce and the spouses are in the pangs of the process. It is often almost impossible for an injured spouse to resist the urge to take to a social media platform and share their feelings regarding their spouse who has either injured their feelings by embarking on an extra-marital affair, failed) to pay what they consider to be appropriate maintenance for children, or simply their feelings of anger simply because their spouse has abandoned them. On the other side of the coin are the divorcing spouses who publish pictures of new partners or joyful announcements at the fact that they have ditched their “old” spouse and are in the process of moving on to newer and better pastures.

The law in South Africa which pertains to the publication of statements which may impact upon or be damaging to another, is the law of defamation which is based on the “actio iniuriarum” which is in simple terms a remedy which came from the Roman Law and gives the right to claim damages to a person (in a monetary amount) who personality rights have been intentionally damaged by the act of another. A person alleging defamation need only show his or her existence in a particular society and the damage to his or her reputation – the statement in addition need not necessarily be false or untrue, however if it is true, to show that it is not defamatory, the perpetrator would need to produce evidence that the publication of the statement was, for example in the public interest or “fair comment” in their defence.

One of the most important aspects of social media in family law matters must be the impact that the reckless posting of statements or pictures have on children who have access to the information by virtue of the age of technology within which we reside and the ease with which children are able to navigate and utilize these platforms. The bonds between parents and children are stretched to uncomfortable proportions in high conflict matters and the damage which can be caused by either or both parents resorting to social media to vent their anger or frustration (whether such statements or postings are defamatory or not) must be potentially substantial. The need for the exercise of restraint in speaking one’s mind on social media platforms is becoming greater. In the world of the family dispute, the requirement for the exercise of complete restraint should be enshrined as being one of the tenants of the protection of children from the adult conflict and relationship issues which abound.

Some studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between social media use in a marriage and a breakdown in the quality of the marriage. In addition to the negative effects on real-life relations, it can also affect your rights in divorce proceedings.

There are a few important things to consider regarding the usage of social media in divorce proceedings. Firstly, ensure that you do not post anything that could be to your detriment in court, especially if the post may potentially affect your property division, parenting plan and settlement agreements. Secondly, attempt to reach an agreement with your spouses on content to be posted, especially where children are involved. Finally, do not post anything that you would not want to be led as evidence or used against you in court.

One needs to be mindful and exercise caution in relation to what information is being posted. While it may be tempting to use social media as a support system, it is crucial that spouses avoid revealing any information relating to the case. In addition to social media, there is also a need to be cautious of the information shared via networking websites, emails and even text messages.

It is not only the spouse’s social media accounts that are of relevance. If there are children involved, the social media accounts of the children should also remain under scrutiny as any of their posts may also be used as evidence in the divorce proceedings and it would be unfortunate if innocent posts are misconstrued. However, it is important to remember that social media can work in your favour as it can reveal critical information relating to your spouse.

In conclusion, social media has a significant effect on your divorce proceedings, from settlement agreements right down to parental rights which can be afforded to you. It is important to limit the usage of your social media to prevent your social media posts from being misconstrued and having detrimental impacts on the outcome of your divorce proceedings.

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