POM Group Recommendations for Custody Hearings

Recommended Social Media Do’s and Don’ts During Divorce and/or Custody Hearings

As the audience for social media sites continues to grow, many divorce attorneys are advising their clients to be careful with their online presence.  Some are going as far as telling them to suspend or even delete their Facebook/Twitter accounts, particularly clients who are involved in a custody battle. The POM Group often recommends a strict level of privacy on social media accounts to protect you from “false” or a potentially “real” incrimination.

Whether you use Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Google+, or LinkedIn, there are several different ways to protect your privacy and limit access to your personal information. But don’t stop there; it is also important to prevent friends and other people from posting potentially damaging material to your social media profiles. Parties in a divorce or child custody battle can, and often do, look at their former spouse’s pages and try to use that information against them in custody, and/or child support hearings.

What are the dangers of social media in a custody battle?  That drunken video or photos that you or someone else posted can be very damaging during a custody battle.  You could have been innocently holding a drink (and not even intoxicated), only to find out someone posted a photo or made an insinuating comment on your Facebook or Twitter.  Basically, when it comes to social media, it’s not just what you’re saying or doing; it’s what everyone else is saying about you.  Photographs, wall posts, comments, and status updates could all be used to prove, or attempt to allege, that you are an unfit parent.  That’s why it’s more important than ever to remove any questionable content from your profiles.

How to limit access to your profile

The best first step in evaluating your social media profile is to check the privacy settings you have in place.  Most people don’t realize how much of their information is public.  For example, all Facebook cover photos are public, so you should never post anything sensitive there.  Photos that you are tagged in are more likely to be visible to strangers, so you might want to consider un-tagging yourself in some of them.  In the future, change your Facebook settings to alert you whenever someone tries to tag you.  This way you will not be surprised to find an embarrassing photo on your profile.

This may all seem very obvious, but it’s a good idea to limit your friend list to people who are “truly” your friends.  If you have a number of “Facebook-only” friends, it’s time to reduce your online exposure by deleting them.  Another option is to add them to a “Restricted List”.  This means they only see the information you make public.

Don’t assume that your Ex can’t see your profile

Keep in mind that your former spouse may still have access to your Facebook page through a mutual friend or through your child’s account, so always assume your Ex is reading everything you post. If your kids have access to your profile, make sure they don’t have your password.  When they spend time with the other parent, they could log in as you and inadvertently show your private information.

Kids may repeat what you say

Divorce lawyers say this all this time, but in a social media world it’s even more important – don’t demean your former spouse in front of the kids.  As tempting as it may be, and it is very tempting, find a friend or family member who will listen to your woes and don’t let your kids hear you vent.  Kids don’t have the ability to self-edit, and they can easily repeat what they’ve heard around the house.  The negative things you say can be used against you in court, to show you’re not looking out for, or supporting the child’s relationship with their other parent.

Check out your kids’ profiles

You may not have thought of this, but it’s not legal for kids under the age of 13 to have a Facebook account.  While there is no formal way to prove age when they register, the Federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) mandates that these sites collect information about users.  It also specifies that no one under the age of 13 may have a social media profile.  Accordingly, if you have given your child (who is under 13) permission to be on Facebook, it may be hard to justify this in court.

Many divorce lawyers will simply tell you to deactivate or suspend your social media accounts until your custody order is final.   However, as long as you remain vigilant about privacy, and keep your communications civil, it should be okay to maintain social media connections.  Staying connected with family and friends is crucial during such a stressful time; just make sure these connections don’t jeopardize your chances of winning your case.

Why private investigator’s are hired during divorce and custody cases, why you may need an investigator, what you can do to assist your investigator, and what to be aware of if your ex-spouse hires an investigator

In court, judges commonly hear accusations from both sides. At times it becomes very difficult to determine who may be telling the truth and if concerns are warranted.

Evidence presented in court by a licensed private investigator provides documented proof of allegations the court must take into consideration when making a ruling in a child custody case. It is especially important to present an accurate representation of a person’s character during any court case, and even more important when children’s lives are impacted.

If you suspect the other parent may be drinking excessively or involved in substance abuse while caring for the child, a private investigator can document the other parent’s actions by observing their daily activities, document those who come and go at the residence, and detect drug and alcohol abuse. 

If you suspect the other parent is neglectful, participating in any kind of criminal behavior, or associating with individuals who may have a criminal background, it is best to have a private investigator perform a comprehensive background check on the other parent, anyone that resides with the parent, or has interaction with your child.

If you are not certain who the other parent is associating with, a private investigator can conduct surveillance to document who is coming and going at the home, even documenting license plates to determine the identity of individuals permitted to be in close proximity or care for your child.

Interviewing and Hiring an Attorney

If you’ve never before hired a custody attorney, the process may seem foreign or intimidating. However, it can actually be boiled down to three simple steps:

  • Gather the names of child custody lawyers, using both personal recommendations and sources such as Attorneys.com or Avvo.com.
  • Meet with each recommended child custody lawyer, familiarize him or her with your child custody case, learn more about the lawyer’s skills and background, and his or her recommended strategy for handling your case.
  • Review your notes from each meeting, then hire the best-qualified child custody attorney for your case.

Do some preparation work before your scheduled meeting with each child custody attorney. Take some time to make a detailed list of questions you’d like to ask during your meeting. These questions should help you get to know the attorney and make an informed decision.

Background questions for family law attorneys

Questions to ask about a child custody attorney’s legal education and professional experience include:

  • Where did you attend college and law school?
  • How long have you been practicing law?
  • Are you board certified?
  • On average, how many child custody cases do you handle annually?
  • Do you frequently handle custody cases similar to mine?
  • What experience do you have using mediation in child custody cases?

Assessment of your child custody case

Get the lawyer’s assessment of your case. Relevant questions to ask include:

  • What is your opinion and assessment of my child custody case?
  • What kind of resolution can I expect?
  • What potential problems could affect the outcome of my case?
  • How long would it reasonably take to resolve my child custody issues?
  • Is mediation or arbitration an option?

Case Management

Questions to ask about how your custody issue will be managed include:

  • Are you available to handle my child custody case?
  • Will you personally manage my case, or will another attorney in your firm be responsible for it?
  • Will other attorneys or experts be working on my case? What are their roles?
  • How frequently will you provide progress reports? What is included in those reports?
  • Will you personally handle my child custody negotiations and court appearances?
  • What is your relationship with the jurisdiction, court, and/or judge?
  • Will you be my day-to-day contact?
  • What is the best way to reach you? How quickly can I expect you to respond?

Legal Fees

Questions to ask about the estimated cost of your custody case include:

  • How much do you charge for your services?
  • How frequently do you send out bills?
  • When will payment be due?
  • Do you require a retainer payment?
  • What other fees and expenses will I have to pay?
  • What do you estimate would be the total cost of my child custody case?

At the end of your meeting

Before the meeting ends, ask the lawyer if there is anything else the attorney wants to tell you. Inquire if there is anything else you should know, before deciding whether to hire him or her?

Making your final decision

Once you’ve had the opportunity to meet one or more attorneys, you’ll need to review the results of those meetings before deciding which lawyer to hire. Among the factors to consider:

  • Does the attorney have the experience necessary to handle your custody case?
  • Is the attorney’s style and approach in line with how you’d like your custody issue to be handled?
  • Did you feel as if you could trust the attorney’s recommendations and feel confident following their advice?