When a private investigator failed repeatedly to deliver a divorce summons to her husband, nurse Ellanora Baidoo asked the judge if she could get the job done via Facebook. Avoiding being served papers has been a common way to delay or stop a legal action and one that Baidoo’s husband, Victor Sena Blood-Dzraku, appeared to be employing.
When a process server is unable to contact a defendant, laws state that notice must be left at a last-known address or published in the newspaper. These two methods do not guarantee the defendant will know about the legal action, and he or she could use that in court to proclaim innocence.
The Manhattan judge who ruled in the wife’s favor explained, “The past decade has also seen the advent and ascendancy of social media . . . the next frontier in developing law of the service of process over the Internet is the use of social media sites as forums through which a summons can be delivered.” In England, serving court documents via Facebook has been accepted since 2012.
Social Media and Infidelity
Facebook: The Virtual Pick-Up Lounge that’s Always Open
Convenient process serving isn’t the only way Facebook has been impacting modern divorce. According to Pew Study Research Center study, the Internet and American Life, one in five adults uses Facebook to flirt. Fast-forward from that first innocent-seeming innuendo to a co-worker and it’s no surprise one-third of divorce petitions in the UK mentioned Facebook.
A 2015 study of 2,000 British citizens found one in seven respondents considered divorce because of their partner’s inappropriate activity on Facebook and other social media channels. The study also found that 25% had at least one argument a week related to social media use and 17% fought about it every day. In a chilling finding, 58% of respondents reported that they knew their partner’s passwords, either with or without the partner’s knowledge. Clearly, for a significant proportion of couples, Facebook detracts from rather than adds to their primary relationship.
Not surprising, American couples behave similarly to those across the pond. A survey conducted by American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported 81% of attorneys had seen an increase in mentions of Facebook and other social media networks in divorce petitions. The issues can be endless.
Specific Facebook-related reasons for divorce mentioned in petitions include:
- inappropriate messages
- separated spouses posting nasty comments about each other
- Facebook friends reporting spouses’ bad behavior
Couples worldwide haven’t yet grasped the impact of Facebook on their marriage. National Sleep Foundation studies reveal that 95% of Americans use electronic devices within one hour of bedtime. We’re combining activity on iPhones and iPads with slightly more passive television viewing as we multi-task. While the habit may have started innocently, Facebook updates and friend requests quickly lure us away from checking on family across the country or searching for a great restaurant for couples’ night for the upcoming weekend.
When Facebook Documents Too Much Evidence
Facebooking Illegal and Inappropriate Activity
Judges are allowing documents to be served via Facebook, and they use updates, profiles, friend connections and more from the channel as well. Petitioners and defendants trying to support their claims often find themselves undone by Facebook evidence.
Some examples of real evidence attorneys have presented or face include:
- a selfie photo of a marijuana-denying mother smoking a joint
- a match.com profile of a custody-seeking man claiming he has no children
- statements in updates and profiles that indicate personality disorders and anger issues
Once it’s on the Internet, it’s there forever.
Facebook Dos and Don’ts during Divorce
Don’t post while tired, emotionally overwrought or drinking
While Facebook can feel like a forum of friends to whom you turn for sympathy and support, it can have more negative impacts. Extreme emotion, fatigue and alcohol render reality in all kinds of exaggerated shapes and colors. Do yourself a favor and find another way to vent when in these conditions.
Instead of venting your frustrations on your social media, use your social network to relieve stress. Get together in person with friends rather than connect with people via social media. Consider divorce support groups where people experiencing the same issues and feelings can lean on each other.
Consider, too, that messages posted to your wall may evoke sympathy and support from SOME friends, but don’t forget that you’re sending these to acquaintances and friends of friends as well. The majority may stay silent, but they will judge nonetheless. They may not see the situation as you do.
Turn off location-indicators
If you “check-in” at bars, concerts or other venues that will render a reaction in an ex and his or her friends, life becomes fraught with even more conflict. A screenshot of this “check-in” could appear in court, putting you in a poorer negotiating position for alimony, child support and custody.
Consider Unfriending Some
If you’ve had a Facebook account for over three years, you probably still have connections there you don’t even remember friending. Some of these people may take your ex-spouse’s side in the divorce. Even if they strive to stay neutral, it may be the time to review and strategically cut a few. You can send a polite message apologizing and remarking that you feel uncomfortable with the Facebook connection at this time.
Featured photo credit: Thomas Leuthard via flickr.com