Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Facebook is divorce lawyers' new best friend

Facebook is divorce lawyers' new best friend
Whatever you share online can (and will) be used against you in court

by Leanne Italie

Forgot to de-friend your wife on Facebook while posting vacation shots of your mistress? Her divorce lawyer will be thrilled.

Oversharing on social networks has led to an overabundance of evidence in divorce cases. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers says 81 percent of its members have used or faced evidence plucked from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking sites, including YouTube and LinkedIn, over the last five years.

"Oh, I've had some fun ones," said Linda Lea Viken, president-elect of the 1,600-member group. "It's very, very common in my new cases."

Facebook is the unrivaled leader for turning virtual reality into real-life divorce drama, Viken said. Sixty-six percent of the lawyers surveyed cited Facebook foibles as the source of online evidence, she said. MySpace followed with 15 percent, followed by Twitter at 5 percent.

About one in five adults uses Facebook for flirting, according to a 2008 report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. But it's not just kissy pix with the manstress or mistress that show up as evidence. Think of Dad forcing son to de-friend mom, bolstering her alienation of affection claim against him.

"This sort of evidence has gone from nothing to a large percentage of my cases coming in, and it's pretty darn easy," Viken said. "It's like, 'Are you kidding me?'"

Neither Viken, in Rapid City, S.D., nor other divorce attorneys would besmirch the attorney-client privilege by revealing the identities of clients, but they spoke in broad terms about some of the goofs they've encountered:

— Husband goes on and declares his single, childless status while seeking primary custody of said nonexistent children.
— Husband denies anger management issues but posts on Facebook in his "write something about yourself" section: "If you have the balls to get in my face, I'll kick your ass into submission."
— Father seeks custody of the kids, claiming (among other things) that his ex-wife never attends the events of their young ones. Subpoenaed evidence from the gaming site World of Warcraft tracks her there with her boyfriend at the precise time she was supposed to be out with the children. Mom loves Facebook's Farmville, too, at all the wrong times.

— Mom denies in court that she smokes marijuana but posts partying, pot-smoking photos of herself on Facebook.

The disconnect between real life and online is hardly unique to partners de-coupling in the United States. A DIY divorce site in the United Kingdom, Divorce-Online, reported the word "Facebook" appeared late last year in about one in five of the petitions it was handling. (The company's caseload now amounts to about 7,000.)

Divorce attorneys Ken and Leslie Matthews, a husband and wife team in Denver, Colo., don't see quite as many online gems. They estimated 1 in 10 of their cases involves such evidence, compared to a rare case or no cases at all in each of the last three years. Regardless, it's powerful evidence to plunk down before a judge, they said.

"You're finding information that you just never get in the normal discovery process — ever," Leslie Matthews said. "People are just blabbing things all over Facebook. People don't yet quite connect what they're saying in their divorce cases is completely different from what they're saying on Facebook. It doesn't even occur to them that they'd be found out."

Social networks are also ripe for divorce-related hate and smear campaigns among battling spousal camps, sometimes spawning legal cases of their own.
"It's all pretty good evidence," Viken said. "You can't really fake a page off of Facebook. The judges don't really have any problems letting it in."

The attorneys offer these tips for making sure your out-loud personal life online doesn't wind up in divorce court:

What you say can and will be held against you
If you plan on lying under oath, don't load up social networks with evidence to the contrary.

"We tell our clients when they come in, 'I want to see your Facebook page. I want you to remember that the judge can read that stuff so never write anything you don't want the judge to hear,'" Viken said.

Beware your frenemies
Going through a divorce is about as emotional as it gets for many couples. The desire to talk trash is great, but so is the pull for friends to take sides.

"They think these people can help get them through it," said Marlene Eskind Moses, a family law expert in Nashville, Tenn., and current president of the elite academy of divorce attorneys. "It's the worst possible time to share your feelings online."

A picture may be worth ... big bucks
Grown-ups on a good day should know better than to post boozy, carousing or sexually explicit photos of themselves online, but in the middle of a contentious divorce? Ken Matthews recalls photos of a client's partially naked estranged wife alongside pictures of their kids on Facebook.

"He was hearing bizarre stories from his kids. Guys around the house all the time. Men running in and out. And there were these pictures," Matthews said.

Privacy, privacy, privacy

They're called privacy settings for a reason. Find them. Get to know them. Use them. Keep up when Facebook decides to change them.

Viken tells a familiar story: A client accused her spouse of adultery and he denied it in court. "The guy testified he didn't have a relationship with this woman. They were just friends. The girlfriend hadn't put security on her page and there they were. 'Gee judge, who lied to you?'"

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mr. Moms become more common

Mr. Moms become more common
By Lauren Russell, CNN
June 20, 2010 7:48 a.m. EDT

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- Atlanta radio personality Jimmy Baron describes the events that left him unemployed as a perfect storm. In 2006, the radio station where he had worked for 13 years was bought and the new owner cut his pay by 60 percent.

He quit and began looking for work. A few offers came in, but not what he was looking for. Then, the nation's economy tanked, and -- for the next three years -- all the offers dried up.

Baron describes that period as horrendous, emasculating, one of the worst of his life.

Finally, late last year, he got the offer he was looking for as a morning DJ at a classic rock station in Atlanta. But on his first day back in the workforce, he realized there was a downside to the new job -- he hadn't been in the house when his son woke up, and he missed his old role of Mr. Mom.

While unemployed, Baron and his wife, who worked from home, had been equal caregivers.

"You get to know a child on a completely different level," he said about the hours he spent each day with 3-year-old Micah.

As women's pay has approached -- and sometimes exceeded -- that of men, Mr. Moms lounging at the playground are becoming more common.

Fathers are the primary caregivers for about a quarter of the nation's 11.2 million preschoolers whose mothers work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 8.6 million men were unemployed in May, 34 percent more than the 6.4 million women. The Great Depression was the last time men's unemployment figures were that much higher than those for women, said Stephanie Coontz, the director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families. The Chicago, Illinois-based organization describes itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families.

And during the 1930s, when housework was considered women's work by many, even unemployed men tended to be less involved in homemaking and child care, she said.

But early data suggest that men aren't rejecting homemaking at the same rates in this downturn, she said.

And some men are leaving the work force by choice. An estimated 158,000 married fathers with children younger than 15 left the labor force for at least a year to care for their family while their wives went to work, according to a Census Bureau report based on data from last year.

But a father being at home more -- whether by choice or, like Baron, because he has no alternative -- can be a hard thing for the man as well as the outside world to accept. Neighbors wonder when the man will quit babysitting and get a real job, and teachers still address childrearing concerns to the woman, Coontz said. Finally, women tend to have a hard time viewing their husbands as equals and not just assistants in the home, she said.

"It's because we have had, for 150 years, emphasis on men as experts, as breadwinners, and women as experts on nurturing," Coontz said.

During his three years off the job, Baron said, he found it difficult to answer the inevitable question, "So, what do you do?" in social situations. He also found it difficult to get used to being the only man when he and Micah joined his friends at at the pool or park.

During one of those long afternoons, he vowed that he would help other Mr. Moms when he returned to a job. Recently, he launched monthly "Dads between Gigs" get-togethers for care-giving dads and their children.

"Regardless of how dads end up in the situation of being caregiver, whether they choose it or not, it's still kind of a mom's world taking care of kids all day," Baron said. The events are a good way for men to get their needed guy time, he said.

Coontz said that a father becoming more involved with his children is a positive thing for everyone involved.

"Boys are more empathetic, and girls grow up more confident in their ability to tackle nonstereotype fields, like math or science," Coontz said about children with involved dads.

The best family dynamics develop when a wife and husband share the roles of caregiver and breadwinner, Coontz said. Partners who share responsibilities tend to have more stable marriages than do parents who play exclusive roles, she said.

It's healthy for both partners to have a life in and out of the house, and it's good for the children to see that as well, she said.

Coontz said men may want to consider another incentive in deciding whether to lend a hand with the laundry: Women tend to feel more intimate when their partners are involved with childcare and housework.