Special Segment: Divorce, Social Networking Style

May 18, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Talk to almost any divorce attorney and they'll tell you that in addition to giving legal advice, they're now finding themselves teaching social media etiquette.

The growing popularity of social media websites is creating problems in relationships and providing new legal ammunition in court.

"The lack of control you have on what people post on your wall, what photos people tag you in could definitely impact your relationships," said Erin Pritchard.

"I know a lot of friends and personal stories of people that have gotten out of relationships just because of Facebook," said Christopher Cottrell.

"I don't actually have a MySpace, but I've heard that someone has put me on MySpace and I wasn't happy with that," said Ronald Burkley.

"A guy from high school posted 'I'm engaged' and a girl replied, "You didn't mention that on our date last week," said Kelly Jones.

It seems everyone knows a horror story about misdeeds done on social media websites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. But for one woman, it's real life. She finds it so embarrassing that did not want to use her real name. We'll call her 'Kate.'

"I was able to get on his Facebook on his wall and it would be: 'Who'd you like to spend the weekend with?' And he'd put her name. 'Who would you like to be on an island with?' He'd put her name. And that's when I started getting mad. And 'I love you' in the emails. That was crossing the line," said Kate.

Kate has been married for 26 years. She encouraged her husband to get on Facebook for entertainment. She even set up the account. She never expected he'd hook up with his high school sweetheart. Now, Kate has filed for divorce.

"I took it finding friends and reconnecting and having fun and never dreaming that it would end my marriage," said Kate.

Divorce attorney Anita Ventrelli of Schiller, Ducanto and Fleck says this is sadly becoming more common.

"It's created a whole new area for people to argue over a whole new area for people to say way too much about themselves and get into trouble and a whole new area for people to investigate and prove that their spouse is lying," said Ventrelli.

She advises clients to watch what they post and watch even more closely what they're spouse posts.

"At the first suggestion of something that makes you feel uncomfortable or that you don't like, print it out, because it could be gone the next day. In terms of your social media use, I would tell you to be circumspect and that even things said jokingly can be printed out and spun with a sinister context," said Ventrelli.

And even if you unfriend your ex, be careful about mutual friends or relatives sharing information with the other side. You should also ignore anyone you don't know.

"Better to be safe than sorry. For all you know, that person seeking to friend you is the other side's private investigator," said Ventrelli. "If you have children I would advise you to talk to your spouse about how your children play a role in your use of social media."

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Erin Alexander also suggests couples talk to one another. She says many problems could be avoided if couples established social media 'dos and dont's' -- like is it OK to post photos of the couple's children? Can you connect with people who you once dated or who are not friends with your spouse?

"You may have individuals within the couple who have very different personal boundaries and don't mind sharing personal information but as it affects their partner, that's something that you need to reconcile and be on the same page about," said Dr. Alexander.

For Kate, it may be too late to reconcile. But she hopes others can learn from her experience. She never thought her marriage would end in divorce.

"I'm trying to sell our home. It's devastating. I cry. I pack up the boxes and I cry. And to think, all over Facebook," said Kate.

Couples in trouble should also change their passwords frequently. Often couples share passwords to social media, email and banking sites, not realizing that any information a former partner gets through those accounts can legally be used against him or her in court.

Also, experts say don't post anything on any site that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the newspaper or hear read aloud in a court of law.

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