Your Money: Trashing your ex on Facebook may cost you

Wed Aug 22, 2012 1:21pm EDT
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(The author is a Reuters contributor.)

By Geoff Williams

(Reuters) - The old maxim goes: If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. For divorcing spouses, that may actually constitute legal advice in these days where Internet and social media sites have become a significant part of many people's daily lives. Divorce is an emotionally charged topic, but letting it all out in a public forum can lead you right into court, sued for libel or having a harsher judgment levied against you in a divorce settlement.

"You give up so much privacy, and if you don't understand the consequences of it, you can really have problems," says Adam Swickle, a divorce attorney in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "The Internet is a dangerous place to comment on your divorce."

According to a 2010 survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 81 percent of their members said that they had seen an increase in the number of cases using social networking evidence during the last five years. So if you use social media sites frequently, and you're in the midst of breaking up a marriage, consider the following:

1. What you write can get you sued.

"You can call someone an idiot or a jerk, and you're okay because it's your opinion," Swickle says. "We have freedom of speech in this country. Even if it affects your reputation, if it's the truth, you can't sue for it."

But where you might get in trouble is if you lie, warns Swickle. For instance, if you call your ex a deadbeat dad who is behind on his child support payments, or an abusive alcoholic, and none of this is true - and he or she can prove it isn't true - then you could be successfully sued for libel. But those cases are rare because they're hard to prove, says Swickle.

It's also hard to prove that a barrage of Facebook or blog posts are, say, harassment or even a form of Internet stalking, says Jacqueline Newman, the managing partner at a New York City matrimonial and divorce law firm. She says that you'd have to show evidence of damages.   Continued...

In this photo illustration, a Facebook logo on a computer screen is seen through a magnifying glass held by a woman in Bern May 19, 2012. Picture taken May 19, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Hodel