Divorce, Facebook-style

Spurned spouses and their lawyers are using social networking sites to exact revenge

Published June 16, 2009 5:17PM (EDT)

In the early years of Facebook, the media marveled over college students' willingness to make private, romantic relationships fodder for public discussion. Guys posted sappy messages on their girlfriend's "Wall," and couples struggled over when to announce that they were "In a Relationship," sometimes settling for the catch-all placeholder, "It's Complicated." And then, of course, there were the Facebook breakups.

These days, the intricacies of online love have practically become second nature. But, Time magazine reports, the influx of older users on social networking sites has resulted in a brand-new phenomenon: the Facebook divorce. Besides publicly announcing the end of their marriage, spurned spouses are using the site to humiliate or disparage one another in front of friends, family and casual acquaintances and even joining groups with names such as "I hate my ex-husband" (237 members) and "I HATE MY (SOON TO BE) EX WIFE SHE'S SUCH A BITCH FAN CLUB" (104 members).

And then there are the divorce lawyers, who have taken to using social networking sites as evidence:

Did your husband's new girlfriend Twitter about getting a piece of jewelry? The court might regard that as marital assets being disbursed to a third party. Did your wife tell the court she's incapable of getting a job? Then your lawyer should ask why she's pursuing job interviews through LinkedIn.

Many lawyers routinely ask their clients whether they maintain an active online presence and advise them to delete anything that could be seen as damaging to their case. "We had a custody case where a mom assured the court that she hadn't been drinking," Joseph Cordell, of the domestic-relations firm Cordell & Cordell, told Time. "But her MySpace page had actual dated photos of her drinking -- and smoking, which is also of interest."

While free speech generally protects exes' rights to post anything about one another that isn't flagrantly defamatory, family-law courts do have the authority to prevent parents from speaking ill of one another to their children. "The question is, If it's on the Internet, can that speech be blocked?" said Stephen Mindel, of Feinberg, Mindel, Brandt & Klein.

As an early Facebook adopter who's seen her share of flame wars, smear campaigns and well-publicized "unfriendings," I find none of this behavior surprising. The Internet has been the "new" drunk dial for just about as long as it's existed. And just because married adults are using the site doesn't mean maturity suddenly reigns.

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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