With the explosion of social media over the last decade, evidence from Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Instagram is now routinely used in divorce cases, shedding light upon critical factors such as a party’s spending habits, irresponsible behavior, or failure to make a good faith effort to find a job. More often than not, an avid social media presence is considered a risk to a divorcing litigant, as anything a party posts online can usually be retrieved and used against him or her in a potentially damaging manner. As a result, divorce attorneys typically advise their clients to refrain from social media altogether during a contested family law proceeding.
Moreover, studies in recent years have indicated that social media may not only be harmful to divorcing couples, but happily married ones as well. In 2010, approximately 81 percent of divorce lawyers asked by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers admitted that social media evidence has played an escalating role in divorce cases since 2005. A 2015 survey of 2,000 married Britons conducted by the U.K. law firm Slater and Gordon confirmed that social media can be absolutely toxic to marriages; almost one in four married couples argued with their spouses about social media use on a weekly basis and another 17 percent reported engaging in such fights on a daily basis. Further, one in seven married people reported that they would consider a divorce because of how their spouses were behaving on popular social media sites and apps like Facebook, Snapchat, Skype, What’sApp, and Twitter.
It was therefore quite surprising when the internet exploded this month with a new trend of positive “#divorceselfies”. Once such “#divorceselfie” went viral after a Calgary, Alberta couple posted a smiling selfie in front of the courthouse. “Here’s Chris Neuman and I yesterday after filing for divorce!” wrote Shannon Neuman on Facebook in a post that has since been shared nearly 40,000 times. “Are we smiling because the partner we chose for forever re we smiling because the partner we chose for forever turned out not to be the forever partner we needed? Of course not. We’re smiling because we have done something extraordinary (we think anyway!) We have respectfully, thoughtfully and honourably ended our marriage in a way that will allow us to go forward as parenting partners for our children, the perfect reason that this always WAS meant to be, so they will never have to choose.” Shannon ended the lengthy caption with an inspiring message to other parents: “And now that you know it’s possible – please consider our way if you find yourself on this road, or share our message if we can help remind them that it’s possible to love your kids more than you hate/distrust/dislike your ex (which we have felt at times on the journey but for the record we do actually like each other).”
After the post went viral, Shannon later reiterated that by no means is her message encouraging divorce; instead, her intention was to inspire couples to be more open and loving toward each other as well as to remind them that family should always come first. “If it helps any couples struggling (even if they’re complete strangers to us!),” said Shannon, “then I think that’s awesome and it makes me feel super proud.”
Thousands of other former couples have likewise taken to social media to celebrate their new relationship as co-parents and reaffirm their commitment to their children as well as to each other in their new roles. It’s a positive and empowering spin on what is far too often an acrimonious and extraordinarily ugly process.