Social Networks and Divorce
It used to be lipstick on the collar, then there were the give-away text messages that spelled the death for many marriages, but these days it is said that one in five divorces involve social networking sites.
There was a recent article on the internet where a Pastor in New Jersey USA said that 20 couples in his congregation of about 1,100 members have all experienced marital trouble as a result of Facebook. As a result he urged his congregants to delete their Facebook profiles, calling Facebook a “portal to infidelity”.
The Pastor’s statement also seemed to have been a matter of the pot calling the kettle black and he himself was later forced to take a leave of absence after his own non-Facebook transgressions were revealed when he admitted that he took part in three-way sexual trysts in the past.
Although the Pastor’s view of Facebook is extreme, it does lead to the question: Whether new technologies are bringing people closer together, or does it tempt people to stray from those who matter to them?
In a survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers it was found that 81% of divorce attorneys have seen an increase in the amount of cases where evidence was used that was obtained from social networking websites. It is also becoming more common for divorce attorneys in South Africa to use information from Facebook and Twitter in divorce proceedings.
In the United States various Attorney and Advocate Associations are conducting workshops on how to find evidence through social media sites. Before, private investigators would follow a spouse where infidelity was suspected but these days evidence could show up on a Facebook wall.
According to media reports celebrities as well as ordinary people have been humiliated online in connection with a separation or divorce. For example, former NFL star Deion Sanders’s wife discovered that he announced his decision to divorce her on a social network. When actors Katy Perry and Russell Brand separated, Perry “unfollowed” her estranged husband.
There are a number of ways in which Facebook can cause relationship stress or breakdown. Some ways would be by sharing way too many information, the photo factor, where a person is tagged in posts of an ex, getting a friend request from an ex or not deleting conversations in your inbox between you and an ex. If divorcing spouses do not sabotage themselves, their friends on Facebook or in real life, can do it for them whether intentionally or accidentally. Peter may be dating Ann, if they go out with friends, she does not tell them he is married. Ann’s friend takes pictures and posts them on Facebook, where his wife then sees them.
Experts say that opportunity is a major predictor of infidelity and opportunities for connections have never been greater than in the digital age we live in. Years ago, there were numerous barriers to getting in touch with an ex or potential partners. These days, by Googling people one is likely to find what their email address is, where they work and their Facebook page. The lure of relationships based on social media is based on the premises that they seem so innocent at first. Research at Lehigh University in the US had found that people who communicate online fell for each other 1 to 3 times faster than those communicating face-to-face. The reason lies in the fact that when there is nonverbal communication, the likelihood of being able to disclose at a deeper level is far greater, because there’s less inhibition. Spending too much time on social networking sites can have a negative impact on any relationship. Just like sitting in front of the television.
The conduct of the parties leading to the break-down does play a role in South African divorce law. In terms of section 10 of the Divorce Act a court may have regard to a parties’ conduct when making a cost order in contested divorce proceedings. Section 7 (2) of the Act also states that when making a maintenance order, a spouses’ conduct insofar as it may be relevant to the break-down of the marriage, should be taken into account.
When a Facebook affair results in adultery (extramarital sex with a third party that willfully and maliciously interferes with marriage relations which renders the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship) a court may award damages against such a third party. According to South African law adultery conflicts directly with the undertaking of spouses towards one another and towards the outside world to have sexual intercourse only within the marriage. As such our law regards it as a violation of a collection of personality rights each spouse has arising out of the marriage. The convictions of the community are that the exclusive sexual relations of marriage have to be respected and that it is unlawful to interfere with them. In terms of legal policy it is necessary to protect the exclusivity of sexual relations to which spouses have bound themselves from interference by third parties. A court will consider the spouse’s financial and social situation, their moral reputation and the state of the relationship before the adultery was committed. When an innocent spouse’s behaviour was partly responsible for driving his or her spouse into another person’s arms, the damages awarded can be considerably lower.
Divorce and Family Law Attorney
Tel: 021 422 2461