3 potential impacts of social media evidence during Illinois divorces

Information shared through social media can affect financial settlements, child custody and visitation orders and the attribution of fault during divorce.

In January 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that 74 percent of online adults now utilize social networking websites. Using these sites can offer various benefits, but unfortunately, the information that people share through them can become a liability during divorce. It's essential for people ending their marriages in Libertyville to understand the varied effects that social media evidence can have on their cases, which can be broken into three general categories.

1. Revealing key financial information

Divorcing spouses who can't agree to settlements on their own are required to provide detailed information about their income, personal assets and shared property. Family law judges use this information when dividing marital property and deciding whether to award alimony. Unfortunately, some spouses choose not to provide full or accurate information. According to Forbes, social media evidence can help reveal various forms of financial deception, including the following:

  • Concealment of income or upcoming windfalls
  • Temporary and improper transfer of separate or marital assets
  • Exaggeration of financial need

Social media activity may not always offer conclusive evidence of hidden assets or financial misrepresentation. However, it may point to inconsistencies that an attorney or forensic accountant could explore more thoroughly.

2. Helping to establish fault

Spouses in Illinois have the choice of filing for fault or no-fault divorces. Potential grounds for fault divorces include spousal abuse, drug or alcohol addiction, adultery and abandonment. Social media evidence may help provide evidence that one spouse has undertaken these actions or others that act as grounds for divorce.

Family law judges do not consider marital fault when dividing property or awarding alimony, but establishing fault can still offer a few benefits. First, it may facilitate a faster divorce, since spouses seeking a fault divorce don't have to complete a two-year period of separation before filing. Additionally, fault is a factor that family law judges may consider when awarding child custody and visitation, if the behavior in question could adversely affect the children.

3. Influencing custody and visitation

Family law judges put the best interests of a divorcing couple's children first when determining child custody and visitation. Judges may weigh many factors to decide how well each spouse could care for the children. These include each parent's mental and physical health; each parent's ability to support the child's relationship with the other parent; and any conduct that could harm the child, such as abuse. Social media activity may provide insights into all of these factors.

Unfortunately, as The Huffington Post notes, in these cases the surface appearance of social media evidence can be highly influential. Posts that were intended to be humorous or made impulsively may be taken out of context, and parents might lack more objective evidence to counter any negative impressions that this evidence makes. Consequently, social media evidence may be especially damaging during child custody and visitation determinations.

Exercising appropriate caution

Due to the decisive impacts that social media can have, Forbes recommends that spouses abstain from sharing potentially harmful information online during their divorces. Most social media activity is admissible in court and less private than users may think. Therefore, spouses should keep information that they want left out of the divorce off of social media. Some spouses may even benefit from deactivating or closing their accounts until the divorce is finalized.

The use of social media evidence serves as a reminder that various everyday activities can have harmful effects during divorce. To better anticipate and avoid these issues, spouses in Illinois should consider consulting with an attorney as soon as possible in the divorce process.