Is Facebook The Gateway Drug to Adultery?
Although social media is touted as a way to bring people together, it may actually be driving some people apart. An April 2015 Huffington Post article, citing a poll conducted by a law firm, shed light on the troubling effect social media use has on marriage:
- One out of seven individuals admitted they considered filing for divorce because of their spouse’s online activity on Facebook and/or other social media sites;
- Twenty-five percent of individuals said they had at least one argument per week regarding their or their spouse’s social media activity; and
- Seventeen percent of individuals polled admitted they fought about social media use with their spouse every day.
These findings are consistent with other research that suggests a strong link between one’s activity on Facebook and the likelihood of future marital discord:
- A 2010 poll conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that over 80 percent of divorce lawyers polled admitted to having seen an increase in the number of people filing for divorce because of one spouse’s Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, other social media websites) activity;
- A 2012 study by Divorce-Online UK found that, according to divorce lawyers practicing in the United Kingdom, Facebook and social media use played a role in one-third of all divorce filings in 2011;
- A 2013 study published in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found that Facebook use by one partner in a romantic relationship was likely to evoke feelings of jealousy in the other, increasing the odds that a conflict would begin that could lead to divorce (the study found the risk was greatest in new romantic relationships); and
- A 2015 study conducted by Boston University found that between 2008 and 2010 a 20 percent increase in Facebook activity correlated to a two percent or greater increase in the divorce rate.
There is no denying the facts: if you or your spouse is using Facebook excessively, you have a greater chance of divorce. Researchers participating in the study had a simple fix: either curb your social media addiction, or be prepared to drag your family through divorce court.
A Cautionary but Illustrative Tale from Illinois
One Chicago woman’s experience illustrates how easy it is for Facebook usage to destroy a marriage. She admitted to using Facebook for four to five hours per day as opposed to using that time to cook dinner for her family, talk to her husband, or read with her kids. Her marriage ended after her husband discovered that she had been communicating with her ex-boyfriends using Facebook. She is not alone.
Facebook has been linked to a variety of activity and behavior that has led to divorces:
- One spouse spends so much time on Facebook that the other spouse feels abandoned or becomes jealous over the amount of time his or her partner spends on Facebook;
- A spouse uses Facebook to contact ex-girl- or boyfriends or ex-husbands or ex-wives and initiates contact with these people; or
- One spouse may have discovered evidence of the other spouse’s Facebook affair, such as pictures from a trip, status updates involving suspicious places, and Facebook messages or posts exchanged between the other spouse and other individuals.
How Can My Facebook Usage Impact My Divorce?
Most people do not consider the impact that their Facebook usage can have on their marriage – or their subsequent divorce – until it is too late. But your Facebook usage can be relevant to your divorce proceeding and hurt you in a big way:
- Grounds for divorce: While most people are aware of “no-fault” divorce laws permitting parties to divorce based on irreconcilable differences, fewer individuals are aware that Maryland law establishes “grounds” for a fault-based divorce. Fault-based divorces do not have the same waiting periods as no-fault divorces. Grounds for divorce that can be established through your Facebook data can include:
- Adultery, if you posted information or pictures about your extramarital sexual affair; and
- Desertion/Cruelty of Treatment, if you abandoned your role as a spouse and left your spouse without your company and concern in favor of spending excessive amounts of time on Facebook.
- Child custody: A child custody determination is made based on what the court feels is in your child’s best interest. Your Facebook usage habits and/or the Facebook friends you have with whom you interact can be used to cast doubt on your abilities to parent your child effectively. You may end up losing primary residential custody of your child to the other parent and/or have your visitation time with your child negatively impacted.
- Property Division & Alimony: If you became emotionally or romantically involved with someone on Facebook and sent that person a significant amount of money, evidence of this can be used to justify a request for spousal support or for a greater share of the marital property. Similarly, if you are the one requesting alimony but your own Facebook usage behavior led to you being unemployed for long stretches of time, you may find it more difficult to have a court rule in your favor on your request.
What Should I Remember About Facebook Usage?
If you are married or in a serious relationship, remember that your Facebook usage behaviors can have a significant and detrimental impact on your relationship. If you are married, your Facebook information and behaviors can become relevant to the issues in your divorce. As a result, you should consider:
- Discussing how Facebook or social media usage affects your relationship early (rather than later) and working with your partner to set appropriate guidelines on usage;
- Not assuming that your Facebook password will keep evidence of emotional affairs, cheating, or other unscrupulous behavior secret (in one study, over half of respondents indicated they knew their partner’s Facebook password despite their partner thinking otherwise); and
- If you or your partner do file for divorce, let your attorney know what role Facebook or social media usage played in the divorce. There may be important Facebook divorce evidence your attorney will need to subpoena and collect in order to be able to make use of it in a divorce or child custody proceeding.
Jimeno & Gray, P.A. is a Maryland-based law firm that provides assistance to spouses involved in divorce and other family law proceedings throughout the Old Line State. Contact us for assistance with your family law issues or with a Facebook divorce case.
Meet Our Lawyers
Gregory P. Jimeno, Esquire
Frank C. Gray, Jr., Esquire.
Magaly Delisse Bittner, Esquire
Jessica McConnell, Esquire