Dealing With Digital Issues in a Divorce
Social media accounts and an online presence have become increasingly important mechanisms through which people live their lives. They are not only a means for self-expression and connection with friends but also links to financial information, key identity and employment details, and even business ventures. This means that when a marriage in New Jersey comes to an end, disentangling digital assets may be just as essential as dividing traditional assets like real estate and personal property.
Digital Imprints Can Have Emotional Resonance
Because social media can capture so much of our personal lives, from photos to loving messages, going through a divorce while dividing up social media can be a challenging emotional experience. The issues may not end with the divorce; after all, you may see recurring photos of a former partner years later when a social media site presents you with “memories.” These emotional effects may lead you to want to stay off of social media for some time after a breakup or open new accounts. However, this can be more challenging when those accounts are also tied to work or business ventures.
Once your accounts are divided, you may want to go through and delete or hide photographs, block or unfriend former partners and adjust preferences. Of course, there are other considerations as well, especially if the marriage has led to shared children. You may want to download any photos that contain your children so that you can pass them on in the future, as your children may be interested in preserving family legacies for themselves and their own descendants.
There are other concerns about emotions on social media. While you are going through a divorce, your family law attorney may advise you to remain quiet on social media. Remember that the public statements you write may be viewed by your estranged spouse and their friends, especially if your divorce is contentious. If child custody, allegations of financial fraud or other serious allegations are at stake during the divorce, what you say on social media may be considered relevant to the proceedings. Your divorce lawyer can provide you with guidance about how to use social media responsibly during this time.
Social Media Safety Online
In most New Jersey divorces, both parties will go through difficult times. However, in some cases, divorce can be accompanied by domestic violence, stalking or threats. If you are a victim of abuse or violence, your divorce attorney may advise you about how to improve your safety online. You may have shared accounts with a former partner, and it is important to change passwords and stop using any such shared accounts for personal communication.
You may also want to review any accounts, whether through your mobile phone plan or services like Google, where your location is shared, tracked or saved. You may also want to review any kind of shared services like online doorbells or security systems, which may involve cameras in or around the home and can provide detailed information regarding your whereabouts.
If you are concerned about a former partner’s behavior online, you may also want to be wary about new friend requests or other contacts on social media that are overly interested in your life. “Catfishing,” or pretending to be someone else online, is all too common and may be used by people engaged in stalking behaviors. Your family lawyer may provide important advice, including potentially speaking to police, if you have been the victim of domestic violence, abuse or cyberstalking.
In these cases, you may also want to consult a professional to review your electronic devices to ensure that no spyware or stalkerware has been introduced on your laptop, mobile phone or tablet.
Dividing Up Shared Accounts
For most people, dealing with shared online accounts during or after a divorce is an emotional and financial concern, if not a safety concern. In order to ensure that shared accounts are divided up, it can help to create a list of all the accounts that you shared with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. You may have shared access to “Internet of Things” devices in your home, virtual assistants or doorbells and your cable or fiber internet and Wi-Fi accounts.
At the same time, you may also have shared logins for smartphones, email accounts, social media accounts, online banking, shopping sites like Amazon, mapping data, crypto wallets or investment management sites. In some cases, you might change your password right away, such as if you gave your former partner your password to your personal email.
In the case of online banking and other shared accounts, it is best to consult with your divorce lawyer before making any changes to them. It may be that these accounts should all be changed or closed at the same time that the divorce is finalized as part of the official process of property division. It may even be important to include details about the management of the online accounts as part of your marital settlement agreement. It is important to carefully review any actions that could affect finances with your family law attorney so that you don’t take any action detrimental to your or your former spouse’s interests while the divorce is in process.
When it comes to social media accounts, however, you can and should act quickly to change your passwords. These are generally individual accounts held by one person. Even if both you and your former partner are responsible, trustworthy people, it is best to prevent temptation by changing the passwords to personal accounts when your relationship comes to an end.
When Social Media Is a Business
Closing or changing the password of an Instagram, TikTok or YouTube account may be more complicated when social media has become a business for one or both parties. In this case, the social media account may be considered a business asset rather than a simple form of personal expression.
Business owners often have unique concerns when going through a divorce, especially when the company involved is a small, closely-held one. In many cases, dealing with income from the business and the future of the company may be a major part of a divorce settlement. The same is true for people with “influencer” businesses, even if they have grown organically and rapidly or are closely linked to only one person’s name and image.
In these cases, your divorce attorney may advise you about how to handle your business social media accounts while the divorce is pending. The social media accounts and any messaging that is made public about the end of the relationship may be a major asset considered in property division, so it could be important to avoid making any changes or taking any quick action without thorough consultation with your family lawyer and associated experts.
Even if your online business is relatively small, you may be dealing with marital assets. By planning your strategy in advance and making a working agreement with your former spouse and their attorney, you can continue to grow your online presence while the divorce moves forward, without putting your business at further risk.
Cleaning Up After the Divorce Is Finalized
You may find that you still have an array of accounts, from Netflix and Hulu to Amazon Prime, to deal with after the divorce is over. Over time, as you change passwords, change settings and remove features that include your former partner, social media will become less fraught.
If you are considering how to handle your online presence and accounts, a family lawyer may provide advice and guidance. Contact the experienced New Jersey divorce lawyers at Lawrence Law by calling 908-645-1000 or using our online form for a consultation about divorce negotiations at our Red Bank or Watchung, New Jersey, office.