Ben Castle, of Horsey Lightly solicitors, gives a rundown on social media and its implications in modern legal practice.
Recently, we have experienced a number of cases where the information provided to us by our clients has not matched the image they provide to the public. Whilst this would seem largely irrelevant to matrimonial proceedings, what information we allow the wider world to see about us can be contradictory to points to be raised in considering the division of matrimonial assets and divorce as a whole.
For example, a common issue for practitioners is trying to prove that a spouse has received the divorce papers at all. Whilst this can be remedied in a rather straightforward manner when the parties are both living in England and Wales, the problem can be more difficult to resolve when one party is another part of the world; organising the service of legal papers in foreign jurisdictions can be extremely time-consuming and expensive. When the author experienced a case where a spouse living in Indonesia denied receiving the petition, he was rather pleased to discover that the same spouse felt it appropriate to document the papers on her public Facebook account and noted the date received. Printouts of her profile page and a short statement to the court were all that was necessary to prove receipt and the divorce continued.
That is not where the usefulness of social media ends – where a spouse argues that following separation, they do not intend to cohabit with a new partner, practitioners are potentially provided with a conundrum of how to refute the assertion. Granted that the existence of a new relationship is not a definitive proof of future living arrangements but, in the absence of a new relationship, an argument that one party intends to live with a new partner tends to raise eyebrows. However, setting out your relationship status on social media will immediately attract questions of your new relationship.
Individuals also need to consider other aspects of their life. Elements of social media can be used to convey details of our professional qualifications and skills, job roles and corporate associations. These details are not missed by practitioners who will question an individual’s links in an attempt to establish and determine whether further, undisclosed, income streams exist, but also professional links that indicate that further assets may be available for consideration as part of a settlement.
So what can an individual do to protect themselves from suspicion? The first step is to be open and honest with your solicitor. Setting out a person’s position must be consistent when entering into negotiations and inconsistencies may prejudice arguments you may wish to raise. Secondly, do examine what information you are providing to the world. It seems an obvious point, but if you exaggerate online, people may believe your statements – remember, “you said it, not me.”
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