You might think that with the newly adopted “no-fault divorce” laws, New York spouses and parents would not need to worry about what they post on Facebook or other social media sites. After all, family law cases do not have to involve evidence of wrongdoing anymore, right?

Technically, that is true. But it is important to remember that evidence from these sites can be incredibly important when spouses do not agree about how property division, child custody or other aspects of the divorce.

Status updates, pictures and even information found on Facebook pages of friends of friends can turn the tide in a contentious family law case. Divorcing spouses who disagree about property division may turn to social media sites to build a case against the other spouse. For example, if one spouse claims not to be able to afford a certain agreement, the other spouse may use pictures of that person’s lavish lifestyle against him or her.

Similarly, parents engaged in child custody disputes often turn to technology to prove that the other parent does not deserve to be the primary custodial parent. One divorce lawyer provided the example of a mother who claimed to be homeschooling the child. Using technology, the father was able to prove that she was playing videogames at the time she was supposed to be teaching the child.

However, it is not only examples of clear misconduct that can influence family law cases. For some spouses or parents, even the appearance of inappropriate behavior will lead that person to be more likely to settle instead of going to court.

Of course, the relatively new use of technology in family law “investigations” cuts both ways. Spouses who want to find evidence against their soon-to-be ex often find sites like Facebook or to be a treasure trove of information. On the other hand, spouses who want to avoid contentious disputes or protect their privacy often find this kind of evidence-gathering intrusive.

Some laws have already been developed to limit how information can be obtained in family law cases. As technology becomes more prevalent in divorce and child custody disputes, those laws will likely become even better defined to protect the rights of everyone involved.

Source: The New York Times, “Divorce Lawyers’ New Friend: Social Networks,” Nadine Brozan, 13 May 2011