Electronic evidence and divorce: Surprising risks Texans should note

Electronic evidence, such as emails, texts and social media posts, is often used in divorces and can impact anything from alimony to child custody.

Communicating through text, email and social media is a daily necessity for many people in Texas, who may not think twice about the things they share electronically. Unfortunately for people who are separating from their spouses, this kind of communication can provide damaging evidence that affects both divorce proceedings and the eventual settlement.

Surveys from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers indicate that the use of digital communications as evidence in divorces is growing, according to Forbes. Over four-fifths of AAML members have reported an uptick in information drawn from social media, while 92 percent have seen more cases using evidence taken from a smart phone. In light of this shift, Texas spouses should understand why this evidence can be harmful and how they can limit the damage.

Revealing too much online

It's easy to underestimate the impacts of social media. Many people think their privacy settings offer protection and their online friends won't share damaging information, according to the Huffington Post. Other people believe information can always be deleted as a last resort. However, truly destroying incriminating evidence - a risky move during any legal proceeding - can be difficult, as other people can preserve posts by taking screen shots.

Many people also think their personal posts are the only ones that matter. However, as the Huffington Post points out, comments and photos that online friends share can be incriminating, too. Plus, it can be easy for an outside party, such as a judge, to take any kind of online activity out of context.

A surprising amount of information can be drawn from social media. As Forbes and the Huffington Post point out, social media may affect the following aspects of a divorce:

  • Division of property. Social media posts about work or lifestyle may suggest that a spouse is concealing assets, which could impact the way property is divided.
  • Alimony. On a similar level, if one spouse appears to be exaggerating his or her need for financial support, alimony awards could be affected.
  • Child custody and visitation. A parent's lifestyle and attitude may reflect whether the parent is responsible and capable of providing a constructive environment for the child. Posts from others, including the child, could easily shed unfavorable light on a parent.

Considering all of these risks, it's smart for divorcing spouses to post, comment and share with extreme caution. The safest option of all is to simply deactivate all social media accounts until the separation is complete.

Other incriminating electronic evidence

Texts, emails and other forms of electronic communication can also be used in divorce court. Like social media posts, once these messages have been sent or shared, they can be impossible to truly delete. The information a person shares through these media can be even more damaging than social media activity, since it may provide clear evidence that contradicts what a spouse has stated in court.

As with social media, spouses should limit their digital communications and save important information for more secure, face-to-face talks. It's ideal for spouses to avoid any mention of the divorce when communicating electronically. At a minimum, spouses should refrain from discussing information they would not want brought up in court.

For most spouses, understanding what kind of evidence is admissible during a divorce can be difficult. Anyone who is preparing for a divorce should speak with an attorney about privacy rights and other concerns before the process begins.

Keywords: divorce, social media, custody, visitation