Knoxville divorce lawyers call Facebook, MySpace friends in court

By Allison Rupp
Knoxville News Sentinel August 7, 2010

where can i buy prescription drugs without a prescription call Facebook, MySpace friends in court ” src=”http://knoxvillefamilylaw.info/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/facing-150×150.jpg” alt=”Knoxville divorce lawyers call Facebook, MySpace friends in court ” width=”150″ height=”150″ />A man shows up for a custody hearing dressed in a nice suit.

When the judge asks if he drinks or parties, he answers no.

He sounds convincing enough. However, his Facebook profile tells a different story to the judge and other lawyers.

Photos of guns, alcohol around the kids and an unidentified substance. Status updates about partying with friends.

His Facebook profile rats him out.

“They say things directly contradictory to what they say in court,” said Danny Garland, a Knoxville domestic law attorney who worked on such a case. “It contradicts that he can’t find a job when Facebook says he is not looking.”

Garland said Facebook, MySpace, online dating profiles and other social networking sites play a role in about 10 percent of his cases.

“In one out of 10, they will say something on there that just hangs them,” Garland said.

Garland and other Knoxville attorneys are among the growing number of divorce lawyers using social networking sites to find evidence. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers recently said 81 percent of its members have used or faced evidence from such sites.

Marty McDonald, an attorney with McDonald Levy Attorneys in Knoxville, began using social networking sites after a defense lawyer “clobbered” him with evidence from one.

“It’s like going to a party without your spouse and they have a tape recording of what you are saying all night,” said McDonald, who spends about 60 percent of his time on family law. “These sites will drive people to be reasonable in their settlements and reasonable with co-parenting time.”

The sites, mainly Facebook, have become a helpful tool for McDonald. It helps him identify spending habits, activity levels, employment and possible affairs.

Usually, he doesn’t find much on the spouse’s Facebook or MySpace profile, because he or she “has their antenna up.” However, he finds a lot of evidence on friends’ sites that aren’t private.

On one occasion, a woman talked about how neat her new friend was on her profile. She posted vacation photos of them and wrote he bought her a new bikini.

This woman was talking about the husband of one of McDonald’s clients.

“They’re excited about their new relationship and want to share it with friends,” McDonald said. “That’s what these sites are all about – relationships.”

The posting might not prove there was an affair, but the mere mention of certain names can convince a person to give more money or settle custody differences.

People might say they put their children first, but their Facebook pages talk about fun activities with friends and vacations, McDonald said.

Or they post a picture of their baby holding a beer can.

It might seem like a harmless joke to that person, but family law attorney Andrew Fox has used this in a child custody case.

“It just looks bad,” Fox said. “People are putting on the mask for the judge, and you need to get behind the mask. These sites can help you do that. People let their masks down with their friends, when they think they are being funny.”

In a domestic abuse case, Fox used MySpace to show a husband’s incriminating statements about how mad he was at his wife and how he might hurt her. The defense lawyer granted protection for the woman and her child.

It’s quick way to paint a picture of someone, McDonald said.

“I don’t want you to think I’m spending 75 percent of billable time on Facebook,” McDonald said. “It’s about 10 percent. It doesn’t take a lot of time. You either find something or don’t.”

He finds “gold pieces” in about one out of every 10 cases.

Garland warns people not to put anything on the Internet they wouldn’t want seen by a judge.

“It’s like the judge is one of your Facebook friends and is looking at it every day,” Garland said. “Because I guarantee the soon-to-be ex-spouse is.”

Also, Garland said every Facebook friend can see a person’s profile no matter the privacy settings, and a Facebook friend may not be a friend in real life, especially in a divorce where friends may choose sides.

McDonald has begun to use social networking sites in personal injury cases. One client claimed she couldn’t work because she couldn’t walk. McDonald found photos of her running hurdles.

Fox said he might begin checking these sites in every case.

“People just ought to be aware of what they post,” Fox said. “Don’t say anything that might come back to haunt you.”

Allison Rupp is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.

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