How social media can influence a divorce
The Legal Expat Desk (LED) is an information hub by GMW advocaten, advising the expat community in the Netherlands since 2006. LED regularly publishes articles covering a wide spectrum of legal topics.
There has been an increase lately in the number of rulings on family law that were influenced to some degree by social media.
Here we look at four specific cases and the role social media, such as Facebook, played in the legal outcome of each situation.
Case 1: A father loses custody
In one divorce case a mother wanted sole custody of the children, to the exclusion of the father.
The father had repeatedly made negative comments about the mother on Facebook, calling her a monster, accusing her of lying, and condemning her for being manipulative and turning the kids against him. He had also made derogatory comments about her to Bureau Jeugdzorg, the child welfare office.
The juvenile court took these Facebook rants into account in its decision to deny the father custody. The father ended up paying a heavy price for his behaviour on Facebook.
Case 2: Married or not?
In another case, after separating with her ex, a woman changed her status on Facebook to "married" and mentioned the words "married" and "wife" on some of her Facebook posts and pages. Her ex showed these pages to the judge.
The court took this as proof that the woman had remarried, thus relieving her ex-husband of his duty to pay her spousal maintenance. The woman disagreed, and appealed against the ruling.
On appeal, she claimed that she had made these comments on Facebook because she had at various times received unwanted attention from third parties via social media, including a number of sexually explicit messages.
The woman admitted that she and her purported new husband had both changed their status to "married". Yet the woman said she had never met the man in question face to face, he had never been to the Netherlands and they only ever had contact with each other through Facebook.
In the end, the court decided that the changed status was not sufficient proof and that the woman had provided adequate substantiation in her defense. Consequently, her ex had to resume maintenance payments.
Case 3: Biological father or not?
A man was told by his parents that his ex had claimed on Facebook and a number of similar Surinam websites that he was not the father of his child. The man demanded a DNA test, which confirmed this.
Just before the results of the DNA test, the man’s ex had admitted that he wasn’t the "real" father. The court subsequently quashed the man’s acknowledgement of the child.
The man’s ex had falsely led him to believe that she was pregnant by him. He therefore felt himself duty-bound to marry her. In the meantime, he had formed an emotional bond with the child and the court held his ex-wife responsible for this.
Consequently, the court took the view that the man should no longer be required to pay spousal maintenance to his ex.
It also ruled that his ex could not invoke the prenuptial agreement, because she must not be allowed to benefit financially from her marriage to him.
In the end, the ex-wife’s unguarded comments on Facebook cost her the spousal maintenance payments and any claim to her former husband’s assets.
Case 4: An end to spousal maintenance
Facebook posts indicated that a divorced woman was living with a new partner. The Amsterdam Court of Appeal therefore decided that her ex no longer had to pay her spousal maintenance.
The woman claimed that she was merely renting a room in her new partner’s home. However, a number of Facebook posts revealed that the woman was making breakfast for him, cooking for him in the evenings and walking the two dogs that they had together.
The woman presented a rental agreement and payment receipts to the court, but the court considered it an established fact that the woman was cohabiting with her new partner.
So, from that moment on, her ex no longer had to pay her spousal maintenance. The woman ended up regretting her openness on Facebook.
Beware what you share
The moral of the story is: be careful what you post on Facebook and other social media, because it may come back to haunt you.
On the other hand, you can also use social media to your advantage: it might be worth keeping a close eye on what your ex is posting!