To Advise or Not to Advise? Client Use of On-Line Dating Platforms during Divorce.
One of the first things that we, as lawyers, tell our clients when they begin their divorce is to limit their social media activity and to be mindful of what they post. As technology continues to evolve, it becomes tougher to define social media and to advise our clients about what on-line activity is “safe,” and what is not.
Social media platforms that are often overlooked by both clients and attorneys in this regard are the on-line dating websites and apps. Many sites, such as Match.com, Bumble, OkCupid, and Tinder, operate much like more traditional social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and the like. Some of these (Bumble and Tinder, for example) even link to your Facebook account and pull information from there about you and your friends.
How can we advise our clients on safe use of dating websites and apps ? If you are like me, then your instinct will be to advise your client to avoid these sites altogether. However, chances are, if your client is involved in a long, drawn out, litigated divorce, he may disregard that advice entirely. (Shocking, right?)
Instead, if your client is utilizing any on-line dating sites or apps, advise him on how to use them, in much the same way that you advised him on how to use Facebook.
The most important issue to bring to your client’s attention is that his profile on these various platforms is public. This is a crucial. Remind him that anything on his profile can become fodder in the divorce proceeding; it could be used against him. The profile’s public nature requires that your client be careful about the information he provides about himself and be mindful of the image he portrays there (outside of the image he might be trying to portray to potential partners).
Many clients believe that, to ensure security on their public on-line dating profile, all they need do is provide inaccurate information about themselves. But, often, this will have an opposite effect instead. What do I mean by that?
Clients will often use pseudonyms, provide ages that are inaccurate, inflate/deflate their incomes, and, most commonly, list themselves as “single” or “divorced,” instead of “separated.” Remind them that, if they have photos of themselves posted on their profiles, providing inaccurate information does not conceal their identities. In fact, the inaccuracies that your clients included in their on-line dating profiles in order to protect themselves may create credibility issues for them later. I’ve seen it happen.
I sat in court the other day, watching the hearing before mine (the judge was running late) unfold. It was a temporary support hearing in which the husband had just testified about his unfortunate decrease in income and his consequent inability to pay his wife any additional support, aside from what he was already paying.
On cross examination, after Wife’s attorney had spent some time delving into Husband’s expenses, the judge instructed counsel to finish up. Wife’s attorney assured the court, “Just a few more questions, Your Honor.” He then concluded, “Mr. Jones, isn’t it true that you make over a million dollars a year?”
Husband’s eyebrows shot up high on his forehead as he responded, emphatically, “Absolutely not!”
Wife’s attorney then handed him a print out of his Match.com profile, which stated, in black-and-white, that the husband “earned more than $1 million annually.” Of course, counsel’s next (and last) question was “Are you lying now or were you lying on your dating profile?” Regardless of the husband’s response, he had made himself out to be a liar, causing himself a credibility issue that would surely impact his case for a long time.
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About this week’s author: Robyn Bonivich
Robyn A. Bonivich is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. While in law school, Robyn was a member of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity and a member of the Pitt Law Women’s Association. In law school Robyn was a certified legal intern with the City of Houston, Texas. She was also a participant in the low income tax payer clinic at the University of Pittsburgh and was able to practice law under the supervision of a practicing attorney. She also held a position as a law clerk with a Tampa Bay area family law firm. Throughout law school Robyn volunteered as a tutor for at risk youth and was an active volunteer with a local food bank and the local Meals on Wheels program. Prior to law school, Robyn graduated from the University of South Florida in Tampa, majoring in history. She is an alumna of Chi Omega sorority and as an active member she served on the chapter’s executive board as the secretary. During her time at USF, Robyn was also a member of the Pre Law Society and Students in Free Enterprise (S.I.F.E.).
After graduating from law school Robyn spent time as an associate attorney in two well known family law firms in the Tampa Bay area. At those firms, Robyn’s concentration was on high conflict divorce and mediation. Robyn has extensive family law experience and has handled hundreds of family law cases dealing with dissolution of marriage, alimony, child support, child custody, petitions for relocation, post-judgment modification of final judgments and orders, motions for contempt/enforcement of orders and/or final judgments, temporary/concurrent custody orders, and domestic violence injunctions.
Robyn is an active member of the Hillsborough County Bar Association, both the Young Lawyers Division and the Family Law Section. Robyn is the current Co-Chair of the Young Lawyers Division’s Pro Bono Committee and is responsible for organizing, staffing, and supervising the monthly Family Law Forms Clinic. The Clinic helps low income individuals fill out family law forms. Robyn has also received a Pro Bono Service Award from the Hillsborough County Bar Association in both 2015 and 2016. Robyn has been a member of the Florida Bar Association since 2012 and the Georgia Bar Association since 2014.