Getting Divorced? Get off Social Media!

Erin KopelmanErin Kopelman, Principal

“Privacy is dead, and social media holds the smoking gun.” – Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable

Eighty-one percent of lawyers find social media networking evidence worth presenting in court, and 66% of divorce cases use Facebook as a principal source of evidence, according to a recent law review article. These are striking numbers worth paying attention to if you’re considering divorce.

A Real World Issue

Your social media posts can and will be used against you.

Just imagine you are on a dating website before you separated from your spouse. Or, in a moment of anger or frustration you post about your divorce and/or your spouse. How might this affect what a judge decides about the custody of your children or your finances?

Now imagine that you claim because of a back injury you cannot work and need alimony, but there are pictures up on the internet of you dancing on a bar, horseback riding, or doing a cartwheel. What might that do to your alimony claim?

Obtaining Social Media Evidence is Easier Than You Think

A person can usually download the profile and postings of others with whom they are “friends” on the site. If your spouse has “un-friended” you, you can ask someone else to secure your spouse’s social media.

Some people going through divorce “un-friend” their spouse and their spouse’s friends and family on their social media, feeling a false sense of security that their spouse is not going to see their profile and posts. Not only does this hurt their relationship with these people, but if someone sees something on your profile that they find interesting, you’d be surprised how quickly it makes its way back to your spouse.

Be aware you can also ask for enforceable discovery requests for the other side to download and produce their social media account profiles and postings. And, your spouse can also subpoena your social media profiles, accounts and postings directly from the provider. 

If you’re posting on social media, you must assume that whatever you post will be seen by your spouse, and if you don’t settle, a judge. If you are considering a divorce, immediately consult a lawyer and stop posting social media. There are rules about the destruction of evidence, which may include social media. When meeting with a lawyer provide them full disclosure about what there is online about you. 

And, going forward, the best way to protect yourself is to not post.  

I’ve Had It! How Soon Can I File for Absolute Divorce in Maryland?

AvatarHeather Collier, Principal

This is one of the most common questions I get from clients. In order to decide how soon you can file for divorce, we have to determine if you are eligible to seek a divorce in Maryland and, if so, on what basis. The basis for the divorce is called the “ground” for divorce. The timing for filing a divorce in Maryland depends on the answers to both questions.

To be eligible to file for divorce in Maryland, one party must live there at the time of filing. If the basis for the divorce, or the “grounds” for divorce occurred outside Maryland, then one party has to have resided in Maryland for at least 6 months before filing for divorce. 

Before the court can enter a Judgment of Absolute Divorce dissolving a couple’s marriage, the residency requirement must be met, one of the parties has to have a viable ground for absolute divorce; and all issues arising out of the parties’ marriage have to be resolved either by agreement of the parties or court order.   

Absolute Divorce Grounds

Maryland recognizes “no-fault” and “fault” grounds for absolute divorce.  Because some grounds for divorce have a waiting period, the ground (or grounds) for divorce you allege may impact when you can file.

No-fault grounds for absolute divorce are:

  • 12-month separation – the parties must live separate and apart, without cohabitation for a period of 12 months prior to filing for divorce, and continuing without interruption through the date the divorce is granted. 

    Translation:  you cannot spend the night under the same roof or have sex with your spouse for 12 months before you file for divorce and it has to stay that way after you file through the divorce.  Spending the night together under the same roof or having sex before the divorce is granted re-starts the separation clock on your 12-month separation period and will delay your ability to file under this ground.
  • Mutual Consent – this ground does not require a period of separation.  If you and your spouse have not yet separated or separated only recently, this ground may be the fastest means of filing for and obtaining a divorce.  In order to file for divorce based on Mutual Consent, you must meet the following requirements:
    • Have a signed, written agreement resolving all issues, including, alimony, property division, and the care, custody and support of any minor child or children;
    • Court approval of any agreement as to custody and support of a minor child as being in that child or children’s best interests; and
    • Neither party has filed to set aside the settlement agreement prior to the divorce hearing.

Fault grounds for divorce, with applicable waiting periods, include:

  • Adultery
  • Desertion, if desertion has continued for 12 continuous months.
  • Conviction of a felony or misdemeanor where the party has been sentenced to serve at least 3 years and has served 12 months of the sentence
  • Insanity if the spouse has been institutionalized for at least 3 years and the insanity is incurable
  • Cruelty of treatment
  • Excessively vicious conduct

Filing starts the divorce process, but the length of time for obtaining the actual Judgment of Absolute Divorce will depend on whether you settle some or all of the issues during the divorce litigation, or if you have a contested trial at the end where a judge will decide the outcome. 

How to Manage Stress During Your Divorce

AvatarDonna E. Van Scoy, Principal

Few events in life pack a bigger emotional gut punch than separation or divorce.

Before, during, and after the legal process, you should expect to experience denial, anger, bargaining, and depression before you can move on to acceptance. These are normal emotions, and can be true even if both parties agree to the divorce. The grief surrounding a divorce and separation will be different for each person – some experience the full emotional spectrum while others only a piece of it. It is imperative during this time to educate yourself and practice self-care. It will be key to allowing you to successfully move forward with your life. 

Here are five things to remember and consider as you contemplate, begin, and complete your divorce:

1. Accept the Stress. Be honest with yourself. If you are dealing with a life event, such as divorce, stress is part of the process. An important first step is to acknowledge the stress.

2. Seek the Advice of Professionals. Securing an attorney will assist you in understanding the process and the law. Educating yourself about the process and the law will help to reduce your stress. It is important to be comfortable with your attorney. Be sure to be completely honest with your attorney. The attorney can only advise you based on the information you provide. 

An attorney is not a therapist. While they understand what you are dealing with emotionally, their job is to represent you legally. While not everyone needs a therapist during a life event, it is wise to do a check-in with a therapist to determine, with their help, whether a therapist should play a role in your stress management. Having someone to share your truths, concerns, and fears with that is not a friend or family member is often beneficial. Your attorney can help you locate a suitable therapist in your price range. 

3. Identify and Use Support. In addition to the professionals, identify a friend and family member who can and will listen to your day to day struggles. Be careful to avoid sharing the details of your divorce with everyone. Do not discuss your divorce with your children, even if they are grown. 

Speak to your therapist, family, friends, or do a computer search to find a local support group. It can be very helpful to share your story with others in the same situation. It is also useful to listen to others going through a separation and divorce.

4. Exercise Self-care. Each person has their own favorite activities or hobbies. It is important to allow time for yourself. Exercise, sleep, and eating well will be important. Go to the spa, go to the gym, or get a massage. Take a break to go fishing, golfing, or antiquing. Read a book, watch a movie or take photographs. Or try yoga. 

There are several ways to practice self-care. Caring for yourself will be critical. Set aside regular time and use it to relax in whatever way works for you.

5. There Will be Bad Days and Good Days. During this process you will experience both bad days and good days. In the beginning, the bad days will outnumber the good days. Some periods of time will be worse than others. Like the stress itself, acknowledge and accept the bad days. Using the steps above will lead to the good days starting to outnumber the bad days.

The separation process will come to an end. A resolution will occur. You will be divorced.  Most importantly, you will move forward.  

Facebook and Divorce: Can You Delete Your Account?

AvatarCasey Florance, Principal

Social media accounts, including Facebook, have become an almost universal way for people to stay connected with friends and family, to share updates about their lives, and to catch up on news and events.

According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, around seven in 10 – or 69% – of adults in the United States use Facebook. Platforms like Facebook can help foster a sense of community and social engagement – especially during stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But people also have a tendency to overshare, or to share an inaccurate version of themselves or their lives – only putting their BEST foot forward online. 

If you are considering separation or divorce, it is important to understand what your obligations are regarding any online content you have generated on Facebook, and how those obligations might impact you during the divorce process. Your online footprint (as well as your spouse’s) can be a helpful tool in your divorce case, or it could be used against you. Either way, you will want to have developed a clear strategy with your attorney regarding your Facebook content.

Here are a few simple rules that I would want any potential client to keep in mind:  

Rule #1: Do not hit delete. Your Facebook page, and any content, posts, messages, or anything else you have posted or shared on Facebook, may all be relevant and discoverable information during your divorce process (meaning, the other side may request this information through discovery and if so, you have an obligation to provide it). In Maryland, a party to litigation has an obligation to preserve relevant evidence, not just once litigation has begun but as soon as it seems that litigation might occur. To steer clear of possible credibility issues later in your case – or worse, sanctions for destroying relevant evidence – the best practice is to keep all social media information in tact from the moment you begin considering divorce. This does not mean you have to continue posting or creating new content, but if you do so, then you should save that as well. 

Rule #2: Never put anything in writing you wouldn’t want a Judge to read one day. This includes any posting on social media (whether made “publicly” or “privately”), as well as “private” or “direct” communications with third parties through the messenger features of any social media platform. 

Rule #3: Preserve everything that may be relevant to your divorce.  Although this seems synonymous with the rule about not affirmatively deleting anything, the obligation to preserve relevant evidence actually extends beyond what you yourself control.  You also have an obligation to let employers, friends, family members, business partners, or anyone else who may have documents in their possession that are relevant to your divorce that they have an obligation to preserve and maintain those documents. Similar to your own obligation, this also includes online data, such as social media posts and messages.

Rule #4: Talk to your attorney before you take any action.  The obligation to preserve relevant information does not necessarily mean that such information must remain “public” on your Facebook page.  Under certain circumstances, you may even be able to delete information off of Facebook, or even your entire account, so long as you maintain copies of everything that was once available.

Earlier this year, Facebook announced a new feature that enables “bulk” deleting of posts from a user’s page, making it easier than ever for people to run afoul of preservation requirements. It is always advisable to discuss with your attorney before you take any action, particularly since the sanctions for destroying relevant evidence can be severe. Working closely with your attorney to understand what your obligations are while also developing a strategy to address your concerns, will put you in the best position to be successful in your divorce matter.  

Welcome to Your Source for Divorce Law

The Divorce/Family Law Group at Lerch, Early & Brewer is proud to present our new Divorce Law Source blog.

In an age where Google searches and web browsing are the go-to for most people to find information about everything, we are thrilled to provide an easily accessible one-stop shop for all things family law and divorce.

Featuring content authored by each of our accomplished and skilled family law attorneys, we encourage you to use this forum to find the answers to commonly asked legal and practical questions our clients confront pre- and post-divorce, review explanations and analyses of pertinent legal concepts and principles, and receive updates on new practices, rules, laws, and the family court system in Maryland and D.C. We will be featuring new posts and content each week. We look forward to welcoming many regular followers and invite you to recommend desired topics for future posts. Please subscribe to the blog on the right-hand side of this page.

Lerch Early’s family law attorneys represent clients in every facet of family law including divorce, custody, child support, alimony, property division, modifications of custody, child support, and alimony, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, litigation, divorce and custody settlement agreements and alternative dispute resolution, guardianship, and adoption. For more information, please check out our website.

We hope to see you soon on our blog!

In Health,

Heather Collier and Erik Arena
Co-chairs, Divorce/Family Law Group