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Facebook both friend and foe for divorce attorneys

12:40 PM, Nov 10, 2010   |    comments
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Tampa Bay, Florida - John and Joanne Sweeny married in September, but before they slid rings on their fingers were typing. The Pinellas couple connected through the Facebook game Mafia Wars. They were both big fans.

"Our paths never seemed to cross when we were in town, but once we got on Facebook, we connected," says John.

And when the two finally met in person, well, talk of war turned to love. "It was like 'Wow, who is this guy?'" says Joanne.

"Instant chemistry. We just hit it off," adds John.

And while social media sites bring people together, they're also playing a big role when couples split up.

"It's a whole new ballgame," says divorce attorney Richard Mockler.

"It's great for family law attorneys. It's a whole new source of information that wasn't available before," says Christine Derr, another Tampa divorce attorney.

Mockler and Derr agree that in contested cases, Facebook and other sites are a goldmine of information. "It's all about using every tool available to learn more about the other side," says Derr.

The sites can answer all sorts of questions: what people are doing, who their friends are and how they spend their money.

"A classic example might be someone who goes to the Super Bowl and they're claiming they don't have any income or they're short of money," explains Mockler.

And attorneys say those partying pics are priceless. "You can prove on this night you weren't with your kids at home, you were actually out at a bar drinking," says Mockler of a fictional situation.

But of course, in a divorce, both sides are searching sites, so here's some advice. "I tell people, 'Imagine everything you post can and will be used against you.' It's like a Facebook Miranda warning," says Mockler.

Here are some basic tips:

- No trash talk. (Don't disparage your spouse, judge or the lawyers).

- No crazy photos. (Keep those partying pics private.)

- No shopping sprees. (Don't show off big purchases or vacations.)

Derr advises, "Presume that everything you write a judge is going to see and if you don't want a judge to see it, don't post it."

And as for John and Joanne, they hope divorce is never in their Facebook future. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to be with her for the rest of my life," says John.

"And I the same," Joanne chimes in.

This couple intends to keep their wars fictional.

Join a discussion about what people post on their Facebook pages.

Kathryn Bursch, 10 News

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