Facebook is fast becoming the other women in a number of marriages in the US and the UK. Divorce lawyers in both countries report that it is cited as evidence in the majority of divorce cases.
In the US, most divorce lawyers now ask to see their client’s Facebook page as a matter of course. Dr Steven Kimmons, a clinical psychologist and marriage counsellor at Loyola University Medical Centre near Chicago, said: “We’re seeing it more and more.”
Facebook and other social media sites are used by people to contact old flames or meet new acquaintances and strike up a friendship that can lead to an affair. A person’s spouse can be left feeling suspicious of the relationship or the amount of time their partner spends on the social media site.
One recent example of how social media can be used to expose an extra-marital relationship is the stream of Tweets between Liz Hurley, who has just split from her husband Arun Nayer, and the Australian cricketer Shane Warne. It wouldn’t surprise divorce lawyers if Nayer cited Twitter as evidence when petitioning for divorce.
It’s not only Facebook and Twitter that can contribute to the failure of a marriage. Virtual life sites such as Second Life have also been cited as the cause of an irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. People conduct virtual affairs through these sites in a bid to “reinvent themselves and live out their fantasies” according to Martin Kieran, a partner and head of family law at the firm Turner Parkinson.
Affairs conducted in the virtual world cannot constitute adultery as grounds for divorce; however, they can be used to prove unreasonable behaviour.
In the US, a recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) revealed that four out of five divorce lawyers have seen an increase in the use of evidence derived from social media sites in the last five years.
Two thirds of the lawyers surveyed said that Facebook is the most culpable site, with MySpace coming in second and Twitter third.
Evidence gathered from social media sites is not only used in divorce cases. Damaging photographic evidence copied from these sites, such as a person using drugs or committing other illegal or dangerous acts, can be used in employment disciplinary procedures and in child custody cases.
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