How not to ‘hard launch’ your divorce
Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash
Sarah Bunn
Sarah Bunn
Associate
Burgess Mee Family Law

In this digital age there is often a temptation to take to social media to record a landmark life event. Coupled with this, for many, there is also the desire to use social media to put the wrongs of the world to right – whether that is in relation to world politics or our personal lives.

In the context of divorce proceedings, from which financial and children proceedings can also follow, a solicitor’s headline advice is likely to be to avoid sharing information about one’s divorce on social media, or at least to err on the side of caution. We all remember Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s ‘conscious uncoupling’ campaign. However, without a PR team behind you, any possible benefits seem to pale in comparison to the possible pitfalls.

Social media may appear to provide useful guidance and tips about navigating the divorce process but often this “advice” or anecdotal evidence is incorrect and could even be harmful. All families are different, and it follows that all divorce experience is different.

As a starting point, parties involved in family court proceedings are expected to uphold confidentiality. This means not sharing details about the case to third parties (unless in specific circumstances, such as when speaking to a legal representative or experts in a case). It also means that a party must not share documents relating to their case with third parties, including their entire social media network. In the context of divorce proceedings, which is largely an online process where spouses can usually avoid ever stepping into a court room, this can easily be forgotten. In financial and children proceedings, whilst attendance at court is more likely, reminders are often necessary.

Divorce, Confidentiality & Social Media

A breach of confidentiality in relation to family proceedings can have a negative impact on one’s case. Judges will be far from impressed and may say so, and in more extreme cases, the individual who is in breach of confidentiality can face fines and/or even a term of imprisonment.

It is important to be aware that even if one maintains confidentiality about the proceedings themselves, derogatory posts on social media about your spouse/child’s other parent can be used as evidence in a case. For example, social media posts about what a terrible person your (soon-to-be former) spouse/partner is or criticism of their parenting styles are often screenshotted and exhibited to narrative statements in order to evidence the conduct and entrenched views of one party about another.  More often than not, this will negatively impact a judge’s perception of the person posting such information, as opposed to the ‘postee’.

It is important to remember that judges are human and that they have a fairly wide discretion within the law. If they take against a particular party, this could impact the final decision which may be unappealable so keep them onside if you can.

Family, Social Media & Divorce

During family proceedings, it is often advisable to avoid social media altogether as what may be construed as positive posts can be used in a negative context, for example, during children proceedings where a party posts a photo of their new partner having a fun day out with children. If the other parent did not know that the children had been spending time with a new partner, such photos may be used as an example of a lack of positive co-parenting and joint decision-making.

Divorce, Finances & Social Media

In financial proceedings, constant updates about new relationships and time spent at each other’s home can be used as evidence of one of the parties’ cohabitation, or intention to cohabit with their new partner or even that claims of financial straits are untrue; “Just look at that 5-star hotel/business class flight/new handbag!”. This may impact financial provision made upon divorce. Even screenshots of CVs and comments found on a spouse’s professional profile can be used as evidence in relation to income and earning capacity.

As an aside, divorcing spouses should also be made aware, at the start of a case, about the move towards transparency in the family court. This development brings in a presumption that approved media and legal bloggers may attend most hearings in the family court and that they may report what they see, hear, and read, although usually the reporting will be anonymised first. This change in the ‘private’ nature of proceedings may result in an inevitable loss of control by parties to keep the details of their case private and shielded from mainstream media, even if they uphold their side of the confidentiality bargain.

Whilst media outlets will not construe every case as a matter of public interest, and there are limits to what can be reported, if you have concerns about this, it is important to have a discussion with your solicitor about whether the media may be interested in your case, and what steps you can take to keep details of your case private.

Some helpful guides about confidentiality in family court proceedings can be found on the government website:

Read more articles from Burgess Mee.

About Sarah Bunn

Sarah Bunn is an Associate at Burgess Mee. She specialises in complex financial remedy and private children law cases. She also advises clients in relation to nuptial agreements and cohabitation disputes.

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