Social networking sites, such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace, are the latest phenomenon with millions of people enjoying catching up with old friends or making new ones. But lawyers are already predicting that the sites will be the next tool to be used in divorce proceedings and that the first ‘Facebook divorce’ is not far away.
Currently, over 13.7 million people in the UK use these sites regularly. Many who enjoy flirtatious emails and conversations with people, who are not their partners, are often lulled into a false sense of security that they are not doing anything wrong because they are only flirting electronically, and they don’t consider it to be as harmful as flirting in real life.
But even if a physical relationship hasn’t occurred, these emails can be used in divorce proceedings and although the person on Facebook may have thought them to be harmless, the aggrieved party can use saucy messages in a divorce court to prove unreasonable behaviour.
Antonia Love, head of family law and partner at Farleys, says, "It is probable that electronic evidence will not lead to a huge rise in divorce figures but it may certainly make a lawyer’s job easier as people are a lot less careful about what they write in emails than what they write down on paper."
In the US a new survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has found that there has been an 88 per cent increase in the number of divorce cases using electronic data as evidence.
In the small print of most of the biggest social networking sites it states that, in some cases, if legal standards are met, user information can be passed on to law enforcement agencies and legal teams involved in civil disputes, divorces and employment actions.
In a recent case involving social networking sites a man, from Newport Pagnell, who had been ordered by magistrates not to contact his estranged wife, was jailed for ten days when he joined Facebook and an automatic "friend request" was sent to all the people on his email contact list, including his ex-wife.
A spokesman for Relate, the counselling service, in the UK said that because social networking sites are a new phenomenon it’s too early to judge whether they are a problem. But computer companies are already preparing to cash in by bringing out software which a suspicious husband or wife can load on to a computer so that they can spy on all email sent to and from their spouse.
SOURCE: MSN Money in an article by Jane Bell