Facebook named as third party in post-christmas divorce rush - Frances Gibb ⇢
Divorce cases increasingly involve evidence of infidelity from Facebook, Second Life, and dating sites:
Emma Patel, head of family law at UK firm Setfords, said: “There is a distinct trend in social networking websites being cited in divorces, almost as a virtual third party. Facebook features in 30 of the petitions I have seen since May, which is nearly all of them.”
She said that the huge popularity of sites such as Second Life, Illicit Encounters and Friends Reunited were tempting couples to cheat on one another. “Then suspicious spouses use the sites to spy, and find evidence of flirting and even affairs.”
Facebook pages were increasingly being cited in evidence as “unreasonable behaviour”, she added, including flirtatious messages or e-mails and chats of a suggestive or sexual nature.
The sites can also fan the acrimony of divorce proceedings, with public slanging matches online and even the posting of photographs of new lovers.
“Couples send abusive comments to each other, even though we advise them not to. In one case things got so bad that we had to involve the police and the person was charged with malicious communication.”
It is estimated that 14 million Britons regularly use social networking sites. The popularity of Friends Reunited a few years ago was blamed for a surge in divorce as people contacted old flames.
A growing number of people also use Second Life, a virtual world where people adopt avatars, or invented personas, to escape from real life, which can lead to infidelities.
Meanwhile, the United States offers a hint of the trend. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers said that 81 per cent of its members had used social media sites to gather evidence in the past five years.
Lawyers may be pleased at their new-found source of evidence. But ministers hoping for less fighting and more mediation in divorce may be less than delighted at Facebook’s new role in family disputes.
What has been going on in the copier room at work, or on business trips, now takes place on Facebook. No surprises here.
But of course some preacher somewhere is blaming social tools for the end of marriage, or leading people into temptation. But that’s our DNA, not the tools.