I Want to Win Custody of My Children, but I Love Facebook: Why you should ‘unfriend’ Facebook during your child custody case

Although my West Michigan family law practice involves meeting with clients about a range of issues, child custody issues are often the most challenging for my clients. The toll child custody takes on the individual parties' emotions, children, and finances is the number one reason why I encourage people to learn more about Collaborative Divorce before things become too heated.

 

Child custody cases can be gut wrenching for all of the parties involved, depending on the nature of the case. Unfortunately, it is the emotional nature of child custody issues that makes my clients’ misuse of social media one of my most challenging issues as an attorney.

I get it. It feels good—even if it’s just for a moment— to blow off steam with a piping hot Facebook post (that doesn’t actually mention your soon-to-be-ex by name, so it’s harmless, right?). And all of those Facebook ‘likes’ on our child custody issue frustrations and woes can feel very validating at a time when we probably need validation from our friends and family the most.

However, if you stopped on this post because you think you are about to be involved in, are in the middle of, or are even nearing the end of a child custody issue, please DO NOT update your Facebook status until you have finished reading this.

Here are my top seven recommendations I make to my own clients who are going through a child custody dispute:

  1. NEVER slam your ex on social media. 
  2. In fact, I instruct all of my clients to refrain from any and all Facebook updating, commenting, liking, or sharing that can be seen as making a comment on the case or disparaging the other party. Believe it or not, as good as the short-term adrenaline rush might feel to post your true feelings about the case on Facebook for the world, and especially your ex, to see, that’s all that it really does is heat up an already difficult situation.
  3. Better yet, stay off Facebook until your case is complete. Don't use Facebook to share your life with the world while your case (and your child’s and your future) is pending with the court. It’s simple: if you stay off Facebook, nothing you say, innocent or otherwise, can be used against you, because it's just not there to be found.
  4. If you decide to stay active on social media during your child custody dispute, remember that your social media photos are worth more than a thousand words. Never post pictures of themselves in bars, drinking alcohol, at parties, and definitely NEVER using illegal substances. What you may see as innocent pictures of a fun night out with friends, are now being shown in court as a way to support your ex’s effort to depict you as the worst parent in the world.
  5. Remember: If it is on your Facebook account, your judge will see it.
  6. Social media privacy is an oxymoron. If you think none of this applies to you because you are smart and have your social media accounts set to private, think again. You would be amazed at how many of my clients' “friends” have been willing to provide their opposing party with access to their "private" social media posts and photos.
  7. But if your account is not set to private, your ex's attorney IS regularly reviewing your activity. I know in my own practice I have looked at numerous Facebook accounts and have found photos including drugs and drug paraphernalia laying about the house, photos of people who are visibly intoxicated, photos that undoubtedly show an adulterous relationship, and read volumes of derogatory comments about the other party that go directly to the comment author’s own fitness as a parent.

The real take home point, in case you have missed it, is that when you are fighting for your children, stay away from Facebook and other social media while your child custody case is ongoing. What you post can be twisted and turned against you. Getting through a heated custody case is hard enough. There is no reason to make your attorney’s job as your advocate harder because of a ridiculous Facebook post.

Before you post that comment or photo on Facebook, remember your end goal: custody of your children. Facebook will be there for you when it’s all over.

Laurie Schmitt, PLLC is a West Michigan family law attorney specializing in collaborative divorce as well as separation, divorce, child custody and support, paternity, and other family law litigation. She is licensed by Michigan State Bar and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, and has extensive advanced training in divorce mediation and collaborative divorce. Contact Laurie.