Just Log Out: Social Media, Smartphones, and Family Law Litigation

Just Log Out:  Social Media, Smartphones, and Family Law Litigation

According to various research groups, in 2017, between 67 and 77% of adults in the United States owned smartphones.  I would venture to say that number only continues to increase.  And it doesn’t take an official study to show how addicted we are to our phones.  Ever feel like you are missing an appendage when you leave home without your device?  I think we can all relate.  What in the world do we actually do on our phones?  Most of us text, email, use the internet, and post on various social media apps.  Not a problem, right?  The answer is:  not usually.

If you are going through a separation or divorce, any good attorney will tell you to avoid or limit social media use, or will at least tell you to ensure that all of your social media accounts are “private.”  That is where things get a little tricky.  You see, “private” accounts are never truly private.  For this reason, I would encourage you to be aware of what you put on any social media platform, even if the account is allegedly “private.”  There are always “friends” that will report back to the opposing party with screenshots from your social media page.  These screenshots may or may not be incriminating.  As bad as it sounds, trust no one when you are going through any type of litigation, especially anything family law related.  Family law encompasses separation, divorce, equitable distribution, custody, child support, alimony, and even domestic violence.  I think it is best to assume that anyone can and will read what you post online.

Venting about your current legal situation might seem like a great idea, especially since the opposing party is not a friend or a follower of your social media accounts.  WRONG AGAIN!  If you must post, avoid disparaging the other party (or their family), and especially avoid posting details regarding a pending court case.  Another thing to avoid posting is any picture that might be even a bit incriminating.  Posting pictures of yourself online with your new boyfriend or girlfriend is generally cute, UNLESS you are involved in litigation.  These cute pictures may land you in a world of hurt, and cost you more money than you ever imagined.  And who doesn’t like to post pictures of their vacation or of their fun weekend activities?  Did you take a spur-of-the-moment trip to Turks and Caicos?  How about that filet mignon and lobster tail you had for dinner last weekend?  Posting about these things are fine unless you are claiming that you don’t have any money to pay alimony or child support.  When in doubt, don’t post it!  You can do what everyone did prior to having social media to document our every move…keep those memories in your head.

Utilizing texting or any type of instant message program is generally a bad idea, especially someone who is the opposing party in family law litigation.  We all know that words can be misconstrued, and it is very easy to hide behind a keyboard to type things we would normally be ashamed of.  That’s not even considering the fact that these messages are never truly deleted.  There are screenshots as well as conversation logs that can and will be accessed if necessary.

The bottom line is to use your common sense.  Assume that everyone can and will be able to see or at least access your social media posts and texts.  Keeping a low-profile on social media is always a best practice during any type of litigation!  If you need help navigating your family law issue in Wake, Durham, or Johnston County, please contact The Law Office of Melissa K. Flanagan, PLLC.

Deception, Distortion, and Deceit: What You Should Always Tell Your Family Law Attorney

Deception, Distortion, and Deceit: What You Should Always Tell Your Family Law Attorney

  1. I had an affair.
  2. My spouse had an affair.
  3. I did something that might make it seem like I had an affair.
  4. Someone might be in possession of emails, texts, screenshots, etc. that might make it look like I had an affair.
  5. I have pending criminal charges or had criminal charges in the past.
  6. I have a current restraining order against my spouse or have in the past.
  7. My spouse has a current restraining order against me or has in the past.
  8. I have a girlfriend/boyfriend.
  9. I have children other than the ones I had with my spouse.
  10. I’ve hit or threatened my spouse but no one reported it.
  11. My spouse hit or threatened me but no one reported it.
  12. I don’t think I am the child’s father.
  13. I have accounts my spouse doesn’t know about.
  14. The police have been called to our home on ANY occasion, even if no police report was filed.
  15. I think my spouse might have proof of ANYTHING that might challenge my case.

This list is not all-inclusive.  You should tell your attorney EVERYTHING.  The attorney will let you know whether that information will be relevant.  Communications you have with your attorney are covered by attorney-client privilege in nearly all cases.  There are only a few exceptions that allow an attorney to release information you provided to them in confidence.[1]

Why should you be one-hundred percent truthful with your attorney?  Your case may be affected in a negative way.  If you are truthful, your attorney can mitigate the damage from any information that may be harmful to your case.  Your attorney is only able to represent you to the best of his/her ability if they know all the details surrounding your case.  Your attorney will not judge you but will be eternally thankful that you were forthcoming.  No one likes surprises in the court room!  Help your attorney and help your case by telling the truth.

[1] See N.C. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.16

Divorce: The Fifth Season

Divorce: The Fifth Season

Spring.  Summer.  Fall.  Winter.  Divorce?  Who knew there was a fifth season?[1]  While there is never a “good” time for a divorce or separation, there are certainly times during the year when family law attorneys receive more phone calls.  If you were to venture a guess, what time of the year do you think this occurs?

Here is a small hint:  it is the time of year families traditionally gather for the holidays.  Regardless of whether your family celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, the months of November, December, and January can be stressful.  Throw alcohol, increased spending, and already strained relationships into the mix, and it is somewhat of a perfect storm.

According to many of my colleagues (and my personal observation), December and January are the most popular months for potential clients to call with questions regarding separation or divorce.  There are many theories floating around the legal community as to why.  First, many struggling families will choose to have one last holiday season together.  Oftentimes this is due to families having young children, not wishing to taint their holiday memories.  Second, individuals already contemplating separation or divorce may wait to act as part of a New Year’s resolution.  Third, the financial strain of the holiday may bring up larger financial issues within families.  Obviously, this short list is not all-inclusive, but it does address some of the main reasons why so many people decide to separate or divorce during November, December, and January.  Regardless of the reasoning behind the influx of phone calls, most family law attorneys will agree that the “fifth season” (divorce) has arrived.

Though family law attorneys seem to get more phone calls in November, December, and January, the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics tends to show a different trend.[2]  In 2016, the months of April, May, and June had the highest recorded number of divorces.  In contrast, the months of November, December, and January had the least.  Though the Center for Health Statistics does not say for certain, one may presume that the numbers only include finalized divorces.  It is not surprising that the number of finalized divorces would be lower in November, December, and January.  There are more court holidays during this time period, and fewer days to presumably finalize a divorce.  These statistics do not take into account those that enter into separation agreements.

Since the fifth season is upon us, I will be doing a series of blog posts about different aspects of separation and divorce.  The first blog in the series will address separation agreements.  If there are any particular topics that pique your interest, please let me know!

[1] Kudos to my husband’s cousin Charlotte, who coined this title for this blog post.  She is twelve years old, and wise beyond her years!

[2] 2016 North Carolina Marriage and Divorce Rates by County