As we approach the end of 2019 and start a new year, some people will resolve to separate from their current partner. Along with the usual issues of custody, access, support, and property division to consider, you also need to turn your mind to some urgent yet practical concerns. As we live in a digital age, protecting your private information (whether it is personal, medical, financial, etc.) is of utmost importance. Who you are (and appear to be) online is extremely important not only to you, your family and your friends, prospective employers and future partners, but also to the lawyers and judges who may hear about your social media conduct through privacy breaches.
Here are some rules to guide you in addressing your privacy and your social media profile following a separation:
Passwords and Your Privacy
It is quite common that after a separation, you may be mentally distracted from what is happening around you, especially if you did not see the break-up coming.
During this difficult time, I have been told by some clients that they have experienced some pretty awful things from the person whom they loved and thought they could trust, including:
• their ex-partner used their on-line bank card PIN and took most/all of their money
• their ex-husband posted sexually private pictures of them on social media
• their ex-wife stole their identity and tweeted out racist and homophobic comments on Twitter to get them fired, or to otherwise make them look bad in court
As such, some of the first things you should do upon separation/break-up are:
• change your locks and entry codes to your home and, if applicable, your vehicle(s)
• change all the passwords on your bank cards, credit card accounts, bills, personal accounts for government services, etc.
• change all the passwords on your smartphone, computer/laptop, gaming consoles, etc.
• change all the passwords on your email and “face-timing” accounts
• change all the passwords on your social media accounts (Facebook, Snap-Chat, Instagram, etc.)
• change all the privacy settings on all your social media accounts
You should actively monitor your personal information and, if you notice anything suspicious, you should act on it with the proper authorities, including the police, if needed. You may also wish to continue to change your passwords every 3 to 6 months.
Once you separate, you can expect that anything that you say to anyone, other than me (as your lawyer), is not subject to any rules of confidentiality. Be careful who you have conversations with, whether it is in person, over the phone, via text or email. Ask yourself whether you can trust the person completely and whether they would be inclined to repeat what you said to them in a sworn statement later in court if asked to do so by the other side or the other side’s lawyer.
Effective immediately, outside of your immediate family (who will likely not cooperate with the other side or their lawyer), be very mindful about what you say to friends, neighbours, acquaintances, and co-workers about:
• the status and events of your case (good or bad)
• your present or future circumstances (good or bad)
• the other side’s present or future circumstances (good or bad)
Always be vigilant, especially with estranged and vindictive family members who like to “stir the pot.”
You are free to use social media, but as I stated above, be careful about:
• what you say
• where you say it from
• what you post
• where you post from
• what you comment on
• what you “like” (statements or pictures)
Don’t start trying to scrub your past away – we can minimize unpleasant pictures and comments if we put them into context. Otherwise, it will look as if you have something terrible to hide.
However, going forward, I will give you some examples of what not to do (please note that this list is not exhaustive):
e.g., #1 – if you are trying to advance the idea that it is best for the children to live with you, as you are a responsible and mature parent, do not post current picture on Facebook of you being drunk or stoned, alone or with friends, at a house party or in public (it does not matter whether it’s legal or not, the optics look bad for you)
e.g., #2 – if you are trying to advance the idea that you want access to your child, do not post a current Snap-Chat picture of your home looking like it will be seen on the next episode of “Hoarders” (it does not matter whether it was after a big party you hosted, the optics look bad for you)
e.g., #3 – if you are trying to advance the idea that you cannot afford to pay support, do not post a current Instagram picture of you on a Caribbean vacation, or in front of a new car you bought or leased (it does not matter whether someone else paid for it, the optics look bad for you)
e.g., #4 – if you are trying to advance the idea that you are willing to work with your former partner regarding custody/access/time-sharing, do not engage in a “text-war” where you are calling him all sorts of vulgar names and threatening that he will never see his children again (it does not matter whether you’re entitled to free speech, you are not free from the consequences of that free speech)
Expect that your ex will see anything you say or do on social media. As a general rule, remember the standard police warning that is given to anyone placed under arrest: “anything you say can and will be used against you”.