Divorce has been changing a lot in recent years, but these changes are not just a matter of successive legal reforms and year-to-year changes in rates.
One source of change that is often underappreciated is the impact that the rise of the digital sphere, and in particular the world of social media, has had on the process of ending a marriage.
Digital technologies have changed the world of divorce primarily through introducing a new avenue of investigation and enquiry. Digital records are often much easier to investigate, and much harder to conceal or destroy if you say something you later regret.
This means that communications made directly with your former partner and with other parties can usually be analysed in great detail, as can any angry Facebook statuses or tweets you may have made relating to the divorce process or your former partner. These can have a significant impact on the divorce process, and are entirely capable of impacting the final settlement.
Even a Google search history can have an impact.
As such, digital evidence is playing an increasingly big role in today’s divorce cases, with written communications – whether made privately or in the more public sphere of social media sharing – probably playing the biggest role. It is a lot harder to deny communications that are on written record than things you have said verbally, and it is a lot easier to send an instant message or post a social media update in the heat of the moment and with little thought than it was for our ancestors to send an angry letter.
Modern technologies are also playing a role in bringing about divorces – or at least hastening the end of already-troubled marriages. Once again, social media is probably the most prominent aspect of the modern world in operation here.
The key factor is much the same; digital communications leave a permanent record and in some circumstances can be much easier for somebody to access than traditional communications methods. Such accessing of private communications may be intentional, for example if a spouse already has some suspicions and accesses their partner’s texts or Facebook messages in an attempt to confirm or refute them.
However, it is also quite common for such communications to be stumbled upon accidentally, for example if a spouse is looking for something else on a partner’s phone, or if one person has left their social media accounts active on a shared computer.
As you might imagine, adultery cases are the biggest group to which this is relevant. Messages that prove or provide supporting evidence for adultery suspicions can be the final triggering factor for divorce, as can incriminating or suspicious photographs that have been shared on social networks.
In other cases, what is discovered may be “virtual adultery,” online flirting with or without “actual” infidelity taking place, and this could still hasten or trigger the end of the relationship. However, similar principles can apply in cases where there is no infidelity at all. If a marriage is already going through difficulties, it is entirely possible for one partner discovering unflattering things their partner has said about them to friends, for example, to prove to be the final straw.
Kerry Smith is the head of family law at K J Smith Solicitors, a specialist family law firm who deal with a wide range of issues including divorce, domestic violence, civil partnerships and prenuptial agreements.