The Digital Age Of Divorce

Family | 5th March 2018

Facebook has approximately 32 million users in the UK. It has made connecting with new and old friends around the world easy, but should it come with a health warning: don’t connect at the expense of disconnecting with intimate face-to-face relationships. Arguably, the most important of such relationships is with your spouse.

It is obvious what Facebook and other social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat and the like, can do:

  • Connect with others; and/or
  • Participate in conversations.

But such sites also have the potential for a detrimental impact, including:

  • Inappropriate use;
  • Cyber-bullying;
  • Defamation;
  • Breach in confidentiality.

Social media has the potential to allow people to engage in more risky behaviour than they would if they were in the same room as them; it can make someone feel less inhibited in their manner of communication.

Can Facebook be used as a reason for getting divorced?

In England and Wales, there is only one ground for divorce – its irretrievable breakdown. To prove this, 1 of 5 facts must be relied upon and the two facts most people have heard about are adultery or behaviour.

Where Facebook has helped the rekindling of a relationship with an old flame and that relationship involves adultery which the other spouse finds intolerable and which has led to the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, there is a divorce petition in the making.

What of the spouse who spends more time looking at Facebook than connecting with their spouse? The majority of clients I see who ask me if they have sufficient reason to obtain a divorce will tell me that a lack of communication between them is one of a number of relationship problems. Another is a lack of intimacy. I have had clients complain that their spouse is more interested in their mobile phone than intimate activity in the bedroom. It is certainly likely to lead a partner to secretly check their spouse’s Facebook account which might then lead to an argument about what was discovered.

If a marriage is failing, then a common reason a partner would check their spouse’s social media accounts would be to see with whom they are talking, what they have been doing (if out without their partner) and some may even be specifically looking to identify the possibility of infidelity.

What about social media posts during or after proceedings?

Facebook and other social media posts can have an impact well after the couple have parted.  Consider the effect a photo of your ex with his or her new partner can have.  What does it say? “Look how much happier I am with the new person in my life.” Some ex’s might be genuinely pleased or even relieved; others might find it humiliating, revengeful, undermining and hurtful.

Thoughtless posts might antagonise

Divorce is undoubtedly a stressful time for everyone involved, not just the spouses but their children and wider family and friends. A thoughtless post on Facebook or similar can antagonise families and get in the way of resolving issues in dispute over, say, children or finances. Therefore I regularly advise my clients to be very cautious about what they (or their new partners) post on social media; I point out the adverse consequences which could impact upon an already fragile relationship.

 

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

Vanessa McMurtrie

Partner, Family

Vanessa trained and then qualified as a solicitor in 1991 with Hart Brown working in the Cobham office, family department for a decade. She then worke...